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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 03.26.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

The sacrificial sofa: A scholarly synopsis

From Quebec's Sherbrooke Record

  • Bishop's [University] patrollers responded to up to four couch fires, setting up a perimeter until firemen could contain the situation, and called for at least two ambulances during the day to deal with injuries -- one sustained when an inebriated student fell and another resulting from a fight.

  • Purple pride runs strong in those who work and study at Bishop's University but the phasing out of the institution's official coat of arms, and particularly the motto, has some in the school's community up in arms.
As we witness anew the perennial pyres of sofas set ablaze by students in springtime, accompanied by the fiery fulmination of futons, not to mention the conflagration of small dressing tables -- the so-called "bonfire of vanities" -- one is urged to recall the origins of this annual undergraduate ritual.

The sacrificial sofa is shrouded in mystery. It is also shrouded by a blanket of unknown provenance whose multiple stains are surpassed only by its inexplicable comfiness. But that is a matter for textile fanaticists and not the purview of this particular treatise.

Sir Derek Misantheum, in his 1936 monograph ‘To Fire is Human, To Forgive, Divan’, traced the tradition of burning furniture in springtime back to the Wicker Wiccans of West Wumbria in the third century. Cave drawings rendered by the Wiccans depicted figures holding above flames objects that appeared to be either low wicker stools or very large hot dogs.

Misantheum's conviction that these were, indeed, wicker furnishings was reinforced by the accompanying runic text etched in stone: "Ictht stpinky palmchair," which, loosely translated, reads, "I smell a rattan."

The learned scholar hypothesized that the Wiccans sacrificed a piece of furniture each spring to appease Whoopsnod, the god of tipping backwards in your chair while making ineffectual flailing motions with your arms just before falling on your keister. (See also Arbunting, J: It Takes Two to Tuckus: Superstition and Pre-Fundamental Heinie Politics in Early Europe.)

Like many pagan customs, the springtime sofa sacrifice was co-opted by the early Christians. The most oft-cited example is the parable of the Burning Barcalounger of Bethsaida, appearing in the Apocrypha Bible's Book of Zippo.

In this parable, God tells Hamancheez, leader of the Vegemites: "Lo, and even as thou art my children, yet thou art not hardly responsible enough to leave unsupervised for the weekend, let alone be keepers of the keys to the chariot, I command that thou shalt upon the first moon of the new season set ablaze a La-Z-Boy as a Beacon of Deliverance."

Over time, however, this phrase has been turned on its head and mistranslated as a "Beacon of Ignorance" and even sometimes a "Bacon of Ignorance," which is an inexcusable linguistic error but one that tends to explain the barbecue component of the contemporary spring ritual.

As a result, modern revelers are more closely allied with the primitive -- and dare we say simple-minded -- origins of the annual sofa sacrifice, abetted to a large degree by a component unfamiliar to the early pagans: Smirnoff vodka coolers.

It has been conjectured that in our local framework, the contemporary sofa-burning ritual lost its symbolic connection to Christian ideals when the governors of the university in 1981 expunged from the school's original coat of arms a depiction of a flaming recliner resting upon the Holy Book. It was replaced briefly by a stylized IBM PC 5150 resting on a stack of five-inch floppies but was ultimately abandoned altogether. (See also Pascal, R: "Recti Cultus Pectora Roborant" Does Not Mean "A Cult of Robot Ants Probed my Pecs.")

Without this context, and like many traditions performed in modern times, the contemporary cooking of couches lacks meaning, much as the words of the drunken student holding the cigarette lighter lack meaning when he slurringly attempts to explain to the police how the sofa just, like, dunno, showed up on the lawn, like, wow, fire, huh? Wha'? Cooler?

Ultimately, like the traditions of chocolate at Easter and me sobbing into my pillow on my birthday, the burning of sofas in springtime is unlikely to be extinguished soon, due to the celebratory nature of the season and the preponderance of Molson Dry for only $23.99. One can only hope that the revelers remember the deep cultural significance of their acts, if, in fact, they remember anything at all.

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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