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Worldwide Fire Celebrations
Fire festivals are common to many races and cultures throughout the world. Although the UK tradition has in recent centuries become associated with Guy Fawkes, the use of fire and the burning of effigies in the autumn are arrived at from separate historical strands.There still exist celebrations where fire is the more important element than fireworks, and there are parts of the South East where the effigy is unlikely to be Guy Fawkes but may be a contemporary figure from public life (see Bonfire Societies).
Hogmanay & New YearThe Scots in particular, are noted for their celebrations of New Year, sometimes on January 11th (New Year before the 1660 calendar change) and often with fire, fireworks or torchlight processions. Edinburgh's fireworks display is a New Year highlight.
UK Fire Celebrations
Up Helly Aa
Tar Barrel Burning
The Burning of the Clocks
The origins of celebrations of light and fire are in atavistic and pagan notions centred on the dying of the summer and the onset of long, dark nights, with crops fading and animals hibernating. Primitive communities would symbolically - and even practically - eke out the fading warmth of the summer by lighting large fires marking the onset of a season when fire was essential, providing warmth and light.
the spring there have also been corresponding festivals to celebrate the
opposite: the dying of the winter and the emergence of the season of rebirth
and new growth, although these have not survived so well into modern times.
The Celts seemed to be never short of an excuse for a good celebration. While none have survived intact into modern times the shadows of some can be perceived today, and are even umdergoing something of a revival e.g. Beltane in Edinburgh.
Chinese New Year.
The Chinese New Year arrives in what is late January for most of the rest of us. The dragon of the old year is driven out in lively fashion with parades accompanied by cymbals and fireworks - usually very noisy ones. (In contrast, near neighbours the Japanese would drive out their demons by throwing beans at them (!?!)
Holi, celebrated in March marks the death of Holika, the demon of winter, and is marked by a bonfire. Divali, in October, is in honour of Lakshmi and in celebration of Rama and Sita on their return from exile and their battle with Ravana. This is very much a festival of light and in the UK fireworks, which are readily available so near to November 5th, have now become closely associated with this festival. Sikh There is also a Sikh festival of Divali at a similar time. It celebrates the victory of Guru Hargobind and does not significantly involve combustion.
Although the festival of No-Rooz does not actually use fire, it is a Spring Equinox celebration in honour of fire - the symbol of truth - and is marked by a visit to the Fire Temple.
There is much more to be added to this section, such as the Viking longboat burnings, the Christian Saints' Day fireworks in Mediterranean countries and others. Come back to this page again (no promises about when new material will appear), or email us with information or links to other sources.
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