In the run up to Bonfire Night this weekend, we take a look at some of the biggest and best fire festivals across the world.
Bonfire Night, Lewes
Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, may be celebrated around the UK but nowhere does it better than Lewes. This little town in Sussex, south England, has a big reputation for putting on a show every 5th November and has been nicknamed the ‘bonfire capital of the world’. This annual celebration marks the failed attempt of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, assassinate the Protestant King James I of England and replace him with a catholic head of state. Despite only really being the logistics guy, Fawkes was the one caught red-handed, and since then his effigy has be burned on bonfires across the country. Lewes takes things one step further with costume parades and giant (often politically themed) ‘guys’ that all go up in smoke at the end of the evening.
Part of Barcelona’s annual La Mercè Festival, the Correfoc (or ‘fire run’) is actually a regular at many Spanish festivals, although the country’s capital is by far one of the biggest. Groups of people dress up as devils and dragons, wielding sparklers and setting off fireworks in the streets, all to the delight of the crowds. With roots in tradition dating back to the 14th century, the Barcelona edition began as a Show of Fantastical Beasts in 1979. The 5-day street festival is the highlight of Barcelona’s calendar, taking place at the end of September and held in honour of the patron saint of the Catalan city.
Burning Man, Nevada
Perhaps the most famous fire festival of all, Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nevada, is a temporary desert metropolis of community, art and self-expression. First beginning in 1986 as an improvised wooden statue, burnt on the San Francisco Baker beach on the Summer Solstice by a couple of friends, the ‘burning man’ soon became an annual event until local police put a stop to the fires. Burning Man soon moved to Black Rock Desert, where an emphasis on survival camping began and is still a key element of the festival today, even as it now draws in over 550,000 people a year.
Wakakusa Yamayaki, Japan
Wakakusa Yamayaki, or the Mountain Burning Festival, is a spectacular event where the dead grass of the extinct Mount Wakakusa volcano is set alight every year. The origins of the “mountain roast” are a little unclear; possibly resulting from a quarrel over land, possibly a way to drive away troublesome wild boar. Today the celebrations begin by lighting a bonfire at the foot of the mountain, followed by a fireworks display, after which the mountain is set on fire. The fires can be seen from all over the nearby city of Nara and its surrounding parks.
The Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali takes place every year in autumn and is one of the most significant celebrations in the Indian calendar. For many, Diwali represents the return of the gods Rama and Sita to the ancient city of Ayodhya, following years of exile and fighting again the evil demon Ravana. Their return home is said to have been met with the lighting of the lamps in all the kingdom. Diwali lamps and lanterns are now lit all over India (and in many countries in the northern hemisphere).
No stranger to fiery celebrations (there are 3 major ones alone), Japan is also home to the Oniyo Fire Festival which takes place at the at the Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine. This ceremony marking the end of the “Oni-kai” festival, a 7 day event that begins on New Year’s Eve, sees the “devil fire” (previously guarded at the temple) moved to six colossal wooden torches. Measuring up to one meter in diameter and 13 meters in length, the torches are burned to exorcise evil spirits from the town, in a tradition that reaches back 1,600 years.
Quema del Diablo, Guatamala
Every 7th December in Guatamala, crowds gather to watch La Quema del Diablo: The Burning of The Devil. It’s a tradition that dates back to colonial times when, in anticipation of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, those who could afford it would decorate the front of their houses with lanterns. Those who couldn’t would gather up any rubbish and burn it in front of their homes, a practice that was eventually formalised when communities began to burn an effigy of the Devil. Many other Latin American countries share a similar tradition, where human-sized ‘demons’ are burned as a symbolic way to clear out the bad and start afresh.
Up Helly Aa, The Shetlands
Up Helly Aa is an ode to Vikings and beards and celebrates the The Shetlands’ close proximity and cultural connection to Scandinavia. The islands had originally been ruled by the Norse until 1468, until they became part of Scotland. First taking place in 1870, the event is held come rain or high water and culminates with the burning of a Viking longship.