Here in the UK, Guy Fawkes Night - affectionately known as Bonfire Night - summons images of fizzing sparklers in gloved hands, breath rising in spirals on cold, crisp nights and skies aglow in incredible technicolour explosions.
But it’s not just the British who have a passion for pyrotechnics. As the UK prepares to light up the sky with spectacular firework displays this Bonfire Night, we explore the celebrations of light that take place around the globe. Steeped in tradition, good old-fashioned fun and a dash of anarchy, ‘fire festivals’ span from the UK to the Spanish coast and the Far East. Expect towering flames, whistling fireworks, elaborate costumes and burning effigies from these culturally-rich spectacles that captivate and delight the world over. Ignite your spark for travel with these five locations that put fire festivals on the map.
Nevada, USA - Burning Man (Labor Day Weekend)
In the searing heat of the Black Rock City Desert, Nevada, this legendary gathering sees a sprawling pop-up metropolis that attracts over 70,000 people each year. Burning Man is a worldwide spiritual phenomenon, so if you find yourself in the great State of Nevada, then this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you should certainly consider!
With humble beginnings, Burning Man began in 1986, as a beach-side summer solstice ritual that has since grown into an annual pilgrimage for a global community. Tech moguls, entrepreneurs and celebrities are pulled by the irresistible mystery of this desert gathering, set out as a great, arching semicircle in the sand. You really have to see it to believe it.
This bustling temporary city prides itself on community, art, self-expression and self-reliance. Organisers provide no scheduled entertainment and have no sponsorship, instead asking attendees to perform their own conceptual art - in essence, Burning Man can be anything you want it to be! You'll find yourself stumbling upon rhythmic drumming sets, tantalising fire dancing and mind-bending art installations at every turn.
Each year is encompassed with a theme that's seen all over the camp, so Burning Man is always guaranteed to be a fresh and liberating experience. At the end of the nine-day event, the celebrations culminate in the burning of a colossal 13-metre effigy, known as 'The Man', that takes a different form each year.
If you're thinking of Burning Man as a future trip, there are 10 rules you'll need to live by to be a ‘Burner'. These are: Radical Inclusion; Gifting; Decommodification; Radical Self-reliance; Radical Self-expression; Communal Effort; Civic Responsibility; Leaving No Trace; Participation and Immediacy. Stick to these and you’re sure to have an out-of-this-world awakening.
Lewes, UK - Guy Fawkes Night (5 November)
A celebration of the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Guy Fawkes Night heralds the failed conspiracy to blow up the British Houses of Parliament - quite literally! After the discovery of over 30 barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, Guy Fawkes and a group of fellow Catholic conspirators were executed for their attempt to overthrow King James I. To rejoice at the King’s survival of this dastardly plot, it was ordered that 5 November become a day of festivity. Smoking bonfires were lit around the country, with a straw-stuffed effigy of Guy Fawkes thrown onto the flaming heaps for his crimes. Church bells rang out in jubilation across the streets of London and thus Guy Fawkes Night - or Bonfire Night as we also know it - was born.
Today, Guy Fawkes Night is still celebrated up and down the country, as a landmark nationwide affair. Held in parks and open spaces, crowds bundled in scarves and coats excitedly gather together as families, friends and communities join to remember, remember the 5th of November. Most notably, Lewes in South East England gives an all-out spectacle, bursting with fireworks, historic traditions and a touch of anarchic spirit! Thousands of visitors pour into this quaint English town each year, parading burning crosses and grotesque puppets through the bustling streets. You’ll spot towering effigies of infamous characters amongst the crowds - often as a scathingly satirical look back on the past year - along with elaborately crafted costumes.
In smaller town celebrations, thunderous multi-coloured fireworks are catapulted from local parks - and even back gardens - often to a rousing brass rendition of a traditional British tune; there’s nothing quite like a dash of good-natured pomp! In recent years, travelling funfairs have rolled into town to amp up the celebrations and make it a real night of gasp-out-loud fun. And, if your teeth are up to it, sugary treats such as sticky toffee apples, Bonfire Toffee or Parkin cake will be close by to nibble on - depending on which part of the country you’re in. It's for sure, though, that wherever you are in the UK around Bonfire Night, a dazzling display will be impossible to miss.
Fukuoka, Japan - Oniyo Fire Festival (7 January)
For an event that speaks to the spirit, the Oniyo Fire Festival - held in Japan’s Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine, Fukuoka - is a mesmerising ancient fire festival that welcomes in every Japanese New Year. Said to exorcise unwanted evil spirits, the traditional celebration inspires prosperity, fertility and luck. Taking place annually on 7 January, this 1,600-year old festival is a staple of life in the city of Fukuoka.
The celebration begins as coveted flames - known as ‘devil’s fire’ - are kept in a holy temple for seven days, and the blessed fire is then split into six bamboo torches wielded by six representatives from local towns. The torches are wrapped in 365 bamboo ropes - one for each day of the year - and often weigh over a ton! Draped only in white loincloths, the representatives carry the enormous torches beside the Arai River and cleanse themselves with the gently lapping waters.
Arriving back at the temple, bathed in darkness, the torches are then lit, whooshing into flaming life. In a burst of fervent mania, the torch bearers then clamber atop the burning torches and thrash tantalisingly close to the leaping flames. It's said that the closer they get to the fire, the greater their bravery. Falling ash and embers are considered good luck if they fall on you - but watch out for those really hot ones; they’re likely to burn! Chanting, noise, heat and elation permeate into the crowds as the torch flames die down and a communal purification settles over the awed spectators, along with the silently drifting ash. This really is a spiritually elevating experience, for locals and visitors alike. If you're lucky enough to experience it, it'll be one that will certainly stay with you for life.
Valencia, Spain - Las Fallas (15—19 March 2020)
The city of Valenica sparks into life with a heady mix of fire, smoke, satirical art and music when the Las Fallas Carnival blazes a trail across its streets. Spanning over three days, this traditional Catholic celebration marks Saint Joseph’s Day, so be set to see crowds hit the streets in colourful, bustling swathes.
What began as a springtime burning of old wood and materials that had been cast out on the streets, has now evolved into the magnificent spectacle of elaborately crafted sculptures displayed across the city that we see today. These spectacular creations - named 'fallas', are often made from wood, polystyrene and papier-mâché, and are expertly painted by six local committees. Looming above crowds, these contemporary works of art - over 300 monuments are constructed - are often rich in satire. The likes of Barack Obama and Lady Gaga have been seen in recent parades, although perhaps not quite as you're used to seeing them!
Spectators can see the 'fallas' displayed in the week running up to 19 March, before they are burned to the ground in a ceremony known as 'le Crema'. Only one creation will escape the hungry flames - saved by public vote - and is crowned the year's winner; the rest of the sculptures are crammed full with fireworks and lit, exploding in a thunderous cacophony over the streets. Crowds delight as the garish puppets smoulder and heavy plumes of smoke drift up above the packed plazas. Sumptuous traditional Venetian clothing is donned for this special occasion, with ladies wearing fine silks and manillas; their hair curled up elaborately beside each ear. There's a real sense of Venetian pride, and everyone is wearing their best for this explosive event.
This really is the Spanish street party of the year, so be ready to let your hair down and get swept up in the infectious celebrations - and watch out for low-flying firecrackers!
Valletta, Malta - The Malta International Fireworks Festival (24 April— 5 May 2020)
A bonanza of jaw-dropping pyrotechnics, colour and showmanship, The Malta International Fireworks Festival, hosted annually in Valletta, is sure to garner collective oohs and ahhs from its crowds watching from the shores. In the blue azure surrounding the stunning Maltese Islands, you can watch the soaring displays reflected in the water and marvel at the multi-million euro pageant that graces the islands every year. Settle in and grab yourself a spot at the Grand Harbour while you enjoy the spellbinding performance - this is a chance for the Maltese to really show you how it's done!
Considered a longstanding speciality for special occasions - think royal births and religious appointments - pioneering Maltese fireworks actually stretch right back to the Order of the Knights of St John. The craft of pyrotechnics is woven into the very fabric of Malta - there are no less than 35 firework factories in full operation today, and the summer months will typically see the skies above the city awash with pops of colour and thunderous bangs.
The preparation for the annual show is a chance to develop some of the best fireworks in the world and months of fevered wizardry takes place behind factory doors. Not only is this occasion a chance to wow with cutting-edge pyrotechnics, but international firework manufacturers will wing their way from across the globe to compete in a 'pyromusical' competition: an impressive choreographed show, involving sending thousands of fireworks whooshing into the air to the rhythm of music. The teams will have one chance to perform and impress, and are then scored on areas such as originality, the quality of colour, synchronisation and choice of music, to name a few! After impressing a panel of judges, the highest overall scoring team wins the coveted first prize. Past winners have come from Italy, Denmark, the UK and, of course, Malta itself.
This event is only growing in popularity, both at home and with visitors, so next time you look to book an Exchange Holiday with your RCI weeks and points, consider the explosive appeal of Malta; it's a real hidden gem.
Whether you are looking for festival frenzy or beachy bliss on your next getaway, don't forget that holidays aren't just for summer... There are some pretty amazing things happening in beautiful destinations across the world throughout the year and, if you are an RCI member, take some time to browse through our online RCI Resort Directory to fire up your imagination as to where you might be heading off to next.
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