UK Fire Festivals

Crowd gathered around a fire machine during festival.
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All over the UK, Fire Festivals light up (and shorten) the long, Northern European nights. Usually held in late autumn and midwinter, these festivals draw on the heritage of Vikings, Celtics, and Anglo Saxons, as well as ancient British traditions. Some modern high spirits are included for good measure.

Gigantic fireworks, huge bonfires, torchlight parades and breathtaking displays of fearlessness in the face of flames are all part of the UK Fire Festivals season.

Bonfires commemorate the foiling of a 17th-century plot to blow up Parliament. Celebrants burn effigies of  Guy Fawkes--one of the plotters--on the bonfires.

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Flaming Tar Barrel in Ottery St. Mary

Man holds burning tar barrel during run in Ottery St. Mary, Devon.
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The Flaming Tar Barrel is one of the UK's bizarre, fiery celebrations on Guy Fawkes Day. Seventeen barrels are lighted outside the city's public houses and carried through the center of town. Similar to Halloween, it's believed the practice started as a way to ward off evil.

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The Daring Young Man Under the Flaming Tar Barrel

A man carrying a flaming tar barrel in Ottery St. Mary.
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Carrying the Flaming Tar Barrel is a daredevil activity in Devon, one of the UK's unusual Fire Festivals. The barrel cans can only be carried by those born in the city of Devon. Generations of families have been known to occasionally make a competition of it. 

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The Burning of the Clocks in Brighton

A large bird shaped lantern burning during the Brighton Fire Festival.

Brighton Beach marks the Winter Solstice with The Burning of the Clocks. The paper lantern parade ends with fireworks and a bonfire on the beach--literally burning time on the shortest day of the year. 

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Torchlight Procession Kicks off Edinburgh's Hogmanay Festivities

People with torches at the Hogmanay Parade.

The Torchlight Procession begins Hogmanay--Edinburgh's 4-day New Year's celebration. It is part of the Year of Young people, which is a program celebrating their achievements. At least 15,000 torchbearers march.

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Wicker Figure Meets at Fiery End on Carlton Hill, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Hogmanay Ends in Flames
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The conclusion of Edinburgh Hogmany is a blazing bonfire on Carlton Hill, usually involving a huge wicker figure.

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Fireball Swingers Celebrate Hogmany

Man in kilt swinging a fireball during Hogmany celebration.
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In Stonehaven, a Scottish coastal town, kilt-clad revelers swing baskets of fire in a dramatic Hogmanay (New Year's) celebration.

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An Orgy of Flame at the Stonehaven Fireball Parade

Fireball Swingers Disappearing in Flames.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Brave fireball swingers are enveloped in flame during the Stonehaven Fireball celebration, part of Hogmanay in this Scottish town.

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Up Helly Aa in Shetland

Men dressed as vikings marching with torches.
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To mark the end of the Yule season, locals, dressed as Vikings, march through the streets of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. The festival--known as Up Helly Aa--takes place on the last Tuesday in January.

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A Dramatic Climax to Up Helly Aa

Circle of Fire in Shetland's Up Helly Aa
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As many as 1,000 "Vikings" surround the doomed Viking galley. They then set it alight with their torches at the climax of Up Helly Aa.

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Viking Longboat is Licked By Flames

Viking Longboat in Flames
Jeff J Mitchell / Getty

The dramatic moment of Shetland's Up Helly Aa occurs when 1,000 Vikings set a colorful longboat ablaze with their torches at the water's edge.


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