Top fire festivals

In the northern hemisphere at least, the days are short and winter is pretty bleak at the moment. To add a bit of cheer to this time of year, there are many fun and vibrant fire festivals taking place around the world. Have you been to any of these?

1. The Nozawa (Dosojin) Fire Festival,  Japan

A fire festival on a spectacular scale awaits you if you join the festivities here. In fact this is one of three top fire festivals that happen in Japan every year. This one happens on 15th January, in a small ski resort four hours’ drive away from Tokyo. A huge tower is built for the health of first born sons and then dramatically set alight. The festivities continue until the gigantic bonfire goes up in flames. Don't miss it!

2. Tar Barrel Night, Ottery St Mary, Devon, UK

The tar barrels of this small town in Devon have become legendary, with thousands of people coming from all over the country to watch this yearly spectacle, which started hundreds of years ago.

The barrels are lined with tar, lit and carried on the shoulders of 'tar barrellers', who run through the streets. The big daddy of barrels, known the 'midnight barrel', is the last one of the night and is lit and carried through the town square, parting the crowd as it goes. The event an electric atmosphere - I grew up here so I thought this is what everyone did on Bonfire night. Just don’t get too close to the flaming barrels of tar! 

3. Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, UK

Known as Europe’s biggest fire festival and the ‘Northern Mardi Gras’, the town of Lerwick in the Shetlands, comes alive with thousands of people gathering to see this huge event every year, on the last Tuesday of January. Much planning and secrecy goes into the celebrations, including what the leader of the festivities the ‘Guizer Jarl’ will wear on the day. Dressed up as a Viking leader, his job is to lead 800 men also in full Viking regalia, through the streets, before setting light to a long boat in the middle of the town. No I’m not lying I promise! The celebrations go on into the night and indeed the next day as it is a public holiday.

If you do happen to miss it there are another eight similar festivals happening in the Shetlands during the winter. No one gets bored here then!

4. Dali Torch Festival, Yunnan, China

This actually happens in the summer months but is so crazy it had to feature here. This is a truly ancient festival, now popular with tourists who come from around the world to Dali in the Yunnan province. Those involved in the Torch Festival carry huge wooden torches of fire (for sale above) and throw pine resin at them to make fireballs. With up to half a million people attending, the streets are chaos and this isn’t recommended for anyone with a nervous disposition! 

5. Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil), Guatemala

Celebrated every year on 7th December in Guatemala, this tradition dates back many centuries and is aimed at ‘burning the devil’. This ritual involves spring cleaning your house and burning the rubbish out on the street in a big bonfire, as well as effigies of the devil. It is believed that all evil spirits are eradicated after this process. Best seen in Guatemala City and Antigua but if you have breathing problems watch from a far as the air is thick with smoke!!

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Top fire festivals

In the northern hemisphere at least, the days are short and winter is pretty bleak at the moment. To add a bit of cheer to this time of year, there are many fun and vibrant fire festivals taking place around the world. Have you been to any of these?

1. The Nozawa (Dosojin) Fire Festival,  Japan

A fire festival on a spectacular scale awaits you if you join the festivities here. In fact this is one of three top fire festivals that happen in Japan every year. This one happens on 15th January, in a small ski resort four hours’ drive away from Tokyo. A huge tower is built for the health of first born sons and then dramatically set alight. The festivities continue until the gigantic bonfire goes up in flames. Don't miss it!

2. Tar Barrel Night, Ottery St Mary, Devon, UK

The tar barrels of this small town in Devon have become legendary, with thousands of people coming from all over the country to watch this yearly spectacle, which started hundreds of years ago.

The barrels are lined with tar, lit and carried on the shoulders of 'tar barrellers', who run through the streets. The big daddy of barrels, known the 'midnight barrel', is the last one of the night and is lit and carried through the town square, parting the crowd as it goes. The event an electric atmosphere - I grew up here so I thought this is what everyone did on Bonfire night. Just don’t get too close to the flaming barrels of tar! 

3. Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, UK

Known as Europe’s biggest fire festival and the ‘Northern Mardi Gras’, the town of Lerwick in the Shetlands, comes alive with thousands of people gathering to see this huge event every year, on the last Tuesday of January. Much planning and secrecy goes into the celebrations, including what the leader of the festivities the ‘Guizer Jarl’ will wear on the day. Dressed up as a Viking leader, his job is to lead 800 men also in full Viking regalia, through the streets, before setting light to a long boat in the middle of the town. No I’m not lying I promise! The celebrations go on into the night and indeed the next day as it is a public holiday.

If you do happen to miss it there are another eight similar festivals happening in the Shetlands during the winter. No one gets bored here then!

4. Dali Torch Festival, Yunnan, China

This actually happens in the summer months but is so crazy it had to feature here. This is a truly ancient festival, now popular with tourists who come from around the world to Dali in the Yunnan province. Those involved in the Torch Festival carry huge wooden torches of fire (for sale above) and throw pine resin at them to make fireballs. With up to half a million people attending, the streets are chaos and this isn’t recommended for anyone with a nervous disposition! 

5. Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil), Guatemala

Celebrated every year on 7th December in Guatemala, this tradition dates back many centuries and is aimed at ‘burning the devil’. This ritual involves spring cleaning your house and burning the rubbish out on the street in a big bonfire, as well as effigies of the devil. It is believed that all evil spirits are eradicated after this process. Best seen in Guatemala City and Antigua but if you have breathing problems watch from a far as the air is thick with smoke!!