Travel Picks: Top 10 fire festivals around the world

LONDON Fri Nov 2, 2012 6:38pm IST

A Hindu devotee lights an earthen lamp on the steps of Sindhiya Ghat during the Karthik Purnima and Dev Diwali festival in Varanasi, November 10, 2011. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash/Files

A Hindu devotee lights an earthen lamp on the steps of Sindhiya Ghat during the Karthik Purnima and Dev Diwali festival in Varanasi, November 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - As clocks turn back, days get shorter, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere plummet and 2012 draws to a close, there's no better time to strike a match and light those dark skies up with color. That's why online travel consultants Cheapflights.com (wwww.cheapflights.com) have come up with a list of Top 10 fire festivals around the world. Reuters has not endorsed this list:

1. Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night) - England

"Remember, remember the fifth of November - gunpowder, treason and plot" goes the nursery rhyme, chanted in the run-up to Guy Fawkes Night (November 5). It goes back to 1605 when Guy Fawkes, one of the members of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives in the House of Lords, London. With the plot to blow up the House of Lords - and kill King James I - foiled, Londoners lit bonfires around the city in celebration.

The bonfire tradition continues to this day, and usually there's an effigy of Guy Fawkes placed at the center of it. One of the biggest celebrations is in the town of Lewes in Sussex where, in recent years, effigies of various current figures, including those from the UK banking world, have been burned.

2. Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine's "Oniyo" - Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka, capital of Fukuoka Prefecture on Kyushu Island, is one of Japan's largest cities and hosts one of its oldest fire festivals. Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine's "Oniyo" (Fire Festival) is a ceremony to drive away evil spirits that has been practiced for 1,600 years. It's held in early January each year. A "devil fire" that has been guarded at the temple is transferred - at around 9 p.m. on the seventh day (January 7) - to six massive torches measuring one meter in diameter and 15 meters long.

The torches are transported around the grounds of the shrine by a group of men in loincloths. It sounds like a potential health-and-safety issue, but it's considered to be good luck if embers or ash from the torches fall on them.

3. Jeongwol Daeboreum Deulbul Festival - Jeju, S. Korea

In early February, the Jeongwol Daeboreum Deulbul Festival takes place on the island of Jeju off the coast of South Korea. It's a fairly new festival, younger than 20 years old, but its origins go back to the time when families kept cows.

To keep the grass grazeable, farmers set fire to the fields in the mountains to destroy old grass and kill harmful insects. Today, a hilltop is set alight to pray for health and a good harvest in the coming year. There's a torchlight march, straw-rope making competition and deumdol (rock) lifting.

4. Diwali - India

The best-known Hindu festival is known as the "festival of lights." Diwali (or Deepavali) means "rows of lighted lamps" and, during this time, houses, shops and public places are decorated with diyas (small earthenware oil lamps), elaborate feasts are prepared and spectacular fireworks displays light up the skies.

The festival (November 13 this year) celebrates the triumph of good over evil and is celebrated throughout India and around the world (in Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, Myanmar and London among many others).

5. Samhain 2012 - Out of the Darkness - Altoona, Florida, USA

More than 500 pagans gather in Florida for the state's largest pagan festival. Running from October 31 to November 4 at Camp Ocala, each day is filled with feasting, rituals, drumming, dancing and live entertainment.

The main ritual in 2012 is centered around the "Burning Times" when so-called "witches" were put to death.

6. Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil) - Guatemala

In early December Guatemalans ready themselves for the Christmas season by...driving the devil from their homes and burning him in the streets! For centuries - at least since the 1700s - the traditional ceremony has been performed to chase bad spirits from homes and neighborhoods.

By watching bonfires, firework displays and burning devil figures in the streets, locals say they are spiritually cleansing themselves. The tradition is best experienced in Guatemala City and Antigua, but many towns throughout Guatemala host similar ceremonies.

7. Ottery St Mary - Devon, England

In the small town of Ottery St Mary, the bonfire and fireworks are not the focal point of the community's celebrations. This November 5, it will be the local townspeople carrying flaming barrels of tar through the streets. In a tradition that predates even 1605 it is said, 17 barrels are carried, starting in the afternoon, with small barrels for boys, medium barrels for youths and women and big ones for the men.

Traditionally, the barrels are set on fire at pubs and hotels around the town and a strict schedule is followed until midnight when the final barrel is carried in the square.

8. Up Helly Aa, Lerwick - Shetland Islands, Scotland

If you've ever wanted to see Vikings, this is the festival to see! Described as a Northern Mardi Gras, its origins stretch back 1,200 years, although the festival started in the 1870s. It's held on the last Tuesday of January (January 29 in 2013). On that evening, nearly 1,000 men march in ranks, carrying fencing posts topped in paraffin-soaked sacking. At 7:30 p.m. a rocket cresting over the Town Hall marks the start.

Torches are lit, bands start playing and the men march with the Guizer Jarl (the head of the festival) who stands at the helm of a longship. Dragged to the burning site, the Guizer Jarl will leave his ship for it to be set alight. As the longship is engulfed by flames, the Vikings sing "The Norseman's Home" before heading to halls for feasts of mutton soup, bannocks and plenty of warming drinks.

9. Bonfire Night - Newfoundland, Canada

When English and Irish people, in search of a better life, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Canada, they took their traditions with them. The English took Guy Fawkes Night, the Irish took Samhain and over time the traditions merged into Mischief Week.

With a belief that certain types of naughty behavior (soaping windows, taking pins from gate hinges or stealing old tires for bonfires) is permitted at this time, many of Newfoundland & Labrador's close-knit communities hold bonfires and celebrations.

10. Sadeh - Iran

Sadeh (or Jashn-e Sadeh) is an ancient Zoroastrian festival. While it refers to 100 days and nights before the New Year (Nowruz, which falls on the Vernal Equinox, March 20 or 21), it is celebrated 50 days earlier - around the end of January. It honors the discovery of fire that defeated the forces of darkness and cold.

Traditionally, festivities went on for three days and gifts of food were given to the poor. Today, Zoroastrians light bonfires, perform religious rituals around them and thank God for his blessings. It's usually celebrated in the Kushk-e Varjavand gardens in Karaj (in Tehran province) where members of the Zoroastrian community congregate for the festivities.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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