Being a Firefly: Follow the Crowds to Nocturnal Fire Festivals Around the World

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Fire-breathing dragons come to life with fireworks during China’s annual Shangyuan festival. Photo by Chi Hung Cheung.

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Shangyuan Festival, China

The Shangyuan festival, or the Spring Lantern Festival, is celebrated on the 15th night of the first month of the Chinese new year (February or March). On this day, towns and villages across the country bathe in the glow of lanterns. Red paper globes fly among illuminated butterflies, dragons, and birds, each written with a riddle—those who solve them win a prize.

Summer Solstice, Glastonbury, England

Glastonbury Tor (or hill) has been sacred for millennia, and on Midsummer Eve hundreds gather on it. Children throw petals, holy water is sprinkled, and the hill is blessed with fire. It marks the important celebration of the beginning of summer, the season of warmth and plenty.

Feast of San Juan, Spain

At this June festival, revellers build bonfires that blaze through the night to welcome summer. According to tradition, jumping over a fire three times on San Juan night burns your troubles away.

Quema del Diablo, Guatemala

In early December, just before Christmas, Guatemalans rid their homes and lives of the devil. Garbage is cleared and homes cleaned, with special attention paid to nooks and corners and the area below the bed. All rubbish is then burnt to celebrate Quema del Diablo or The Burning of the Devil, and Christmas is welcomed with a clean heart and home.

Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine’s “Oniyo”, Fukuoka, Japan

On the seventh day of the new year, after being guarded at the temple for a week, the Oniyo or fire devil is brought out to ward off evil spirits in a ceremony at the Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine. As part of a 1,600-year-old Shinto ritual, the flame is transferred to six 45-foot-tall and three-foot-wide torches, which are carried by men in loincloths. Onlookers who have embers or ash fall on them from the torches are believed to be blessed.

 

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