World's Coolest Fire and Lantern Festivals
Let's be real: Fire is fascinating. Yes, it provides warmth, lighting and a method for cooking food, but humans have also used it for celebratory purposes since the advent of this revolutionary tool.
Cultures across the globe host fire and lantern festivals for varying reasons. Some choose to light up the night with bonfires each fall to mark the beginning of a season that requires fire for warmth. Others choose springtime to ignite fireworks as a way to celebrate a rebirth of the coming year. Several also see fire as a way of warding off evil spirits or bad luck.
Whatever the reasoning, there's one thing we can all agree on — these annual festivals happen to be some of the most spectacular and beautiful around the world. Just see for yourself.
Lohri – India
Location: Punjab, India
Celebration: This winter folk festival marks the end of winter and is held the night before Makar Sankranti, a festival dedicated to the deity Surya (sun). Locals celebrate Lohri by lighting bonfires, wearing their brightest clothes, dancing and eating festive food.
Up Helly Aa – Scotland
Location: Shetland, Scotland
When: Several celebrations last from January to March
Celebration: Europe's biggest fire festival involves participants dressing up in elaborate Viking costumes and lighting torches for a large processional that ends in the burning of an imitation Viking ship — all of which marks the end of the yule season.
Wakakusa Yamayaki – Japan
Location: Nara, Japan
When: Fourth Saturday in January
Celebration: While the origins of this festival are unclear, one thing is apparent — each year, the grass on the hillside of Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire. This has taken place for hundreds of years, and some rumors believe that the burning began as a result of boundary conflicts between the region's great temples. Others claim it was first done to get rid of wild boars. Whatever the reason, it's stunning.
Spring Lantern Festival
Location: Nanjing, China (has the largest, but it's celebrated throughout China)
When: Typically held in February, marking the end of the Chinese New Year
Celebration: This festival goes back 2,000 years when an emperor ordered everyone to light lanterns to show respect to Buddha. The tradition continues today, with lanterns illuminating the country.
Jeongwol Daeboreum Fire Festival – South Korea
Location: Jeju, South Korea
Celebration: This fire festival celebrates the first full moon after the start of the Lunar New Year. It's believed to be the largest moon of the year, and the celebration is meant to encourage good harvests for the upcoming season. It's also a time to free yourself of any bad luck or spirits.
Holika Dahan – India
Location: Celebrated throughout India
Celebration: This Hindu holiday celebrates the killing of Holika (a demoness in Hindu scripture) in an effort to save her nephew, Prahlad, before she had the chance to kill him. It's believed she was burnt to death with the help of god Vishnu. The annual bonfire happens the night before Holi, a Hindu festival of colors that represents a time for families and friends to gather and repair any broken relationships.
National Pyrotechnic Festival – Mexico
Location: Tultepec, Mexico
Celebration: Located in the outskirts of Mexico City, the state of Tultepec is known for producing more than half of the country's fireworks. That fact is celebrated each March when 100,000 people visit the otherwise quiet area for a week of concerts, dances and a whole lot of pyrotechnics.
AfrikaBurn – South Africa
Location: Tankwa Karoo National Park, South Africa
When: Typically the last week in April
Celebration: Similar to Burning Man in the U.S. (more on that later), AfrikaBurn invites artists and other creatives to build a temporary city with massive art sculptures, themed camps, music and, of course, fire.
Beltane Fire Festival – Scotland
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
When: April 30
Celebration: This modern-day fire festival takes after the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane — a celebration that would take place before May Day to mark the beginning of summer.
Walpurgis Night – Europe
Location: Northern and Central Europe
When: April 30 to May 1
Celebration: Saint Walpurga was celebrated by German Christians for fighting witchcraft, and people continue to light bonfires on the night before Saint Walpurga's Day to ward off evil spirits and witches.
Rouketopolemos – Greece
Location: Vrontados, Greece
When: During Orthodox Easter in the spring
Celebration: Get this — at midnight before Easter Sunday, two rival church congregations have what's been dubbed a "rocket war" that includes firing handmade fireworks at one another. The rivalry dates back to the Ottoman era when real cannons were used.
Da Shuhua – China
Location: Nanquan, China
When: Early May
Celebration: This Chinese Festival of Lights dates back more than 500 years. Today, it marks the start of the Dragon Boat Festival, but it used to be celebrated around the Lunar New Year. Instead of using fireworks to celebrate (a luxury the poor couldn't afford), the people of Nuanquan encouraged blacksmiths to throw molten iron against a wall to create a tree-flower shape out of sparks. Four folk artists still perform the act, which is seen as courageous in this community.
WaterFire Providence – United States
Location: Providence, Rhode Island
When: May through November
Celebration: What started as a sculpture by Barnaby Evans on the city's rivers has now become a major attraction for Providence. Part public art installation, part urban festival and part spiritual ceremony, WaterFire symbolizes the strength that can be found in preserving a sense of community. Ceremonial lightings of 86 burning braziers take place once or twice a month on Saturday evenings from May to November.
Lantern Floating Hawaii – United States
Location: Oahu, Hawaii
When: Memorial Day (in late May)
Celebration: While people across the U.S. celebrate Memorial Day in late May, in Hawaii, they do it with fire. Participants of this celebration send floating lanterns into the Pacific Ocean at sunset as a way to remember the deceased and inspire hope and good fortune.
Sankt Hans Aften – Denmark
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
When: June 23
Celebration: Celebrating midsummer with bonfires and barbecues has been a tradition throughout Scandinavia for centuries. It was first done as a Pagan celebration to rid evil spirits with fire. But Sankt Hans Aften (or St. John's Eve) is celebrated the night before the Catholic celebration of St. John, which also happens to be the longest day of the year. Of course, beach bonfires are the best way to celebrate and bring people together for the festivities, which typically include singing "Vi Elsker Vort Land," an ode to Denmark.
Full Moon Lantern Festival – Vietnam
Location: Hoi An, Vietnam
When: Every time a full moon happens each month
Celebration: In Buddhism, the full moon is a time of spiritual reflection and a time to honor deceased loved ones. Releasing lanterns during this time is believed to bring happiness and good health.
Burning of Zozobra – United States
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
When: Friday before Labor Day (early September)
Celebration: The first Zozobra was created by Will Shuster, a local artist, in 1924. He was originally a 6-foot-puppet that was burned in Shuster's backyard. The monster-like character now stands 50 feet and represents everything that is evil — a manifestation of man's failures throughout the year. The community gathers to watch the Fire Spirit defeat Zozobra, a fiery, symbolic end to the last days of summer.
Burning Man – United States
Location: Black Rock City, Nevada
When: Late August to early September (ending over Labor Day weekend)
Celebration: About 80,000 free spirits venture to Nevada's Black Rock Desert to build a city where gifts are exchanged in lieu of money and radical self-expression takes place. That includes, of course, costumes, music and massive structures of artwork. The week-long event culminates in a burning of "The Man," meant to represent capitalism.
Birgu Fest – Malta
Location: Birgu, Malta (also known as Citta Vittoriosa)
Celebration: This national event is essentially a celebration of one of Malta's oldest cities. During the multiday festival, visitors travel to Birgu to explore the city's winding streets and ancient architecture while listening to traditional music and eating Maltese cuisine. One of the event's highlights is Birgu By Candlelight when the streets and buildings are illuminated by thousands of candles, adding a magical feel to the already beautiful setting.
Diwali – India
Location: Throughout India
When: Sometime between mid-October and mid-November
Celebration: A popular five-day festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, Diwali represents a spiritual victory of good over evil and specifically honors Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. People light their homes, perform worship ceremonies, partake in feasts and light fireworks during the event.
Guy Fawkes Night – United Kingdom
Location: Celebrated throughout the United Kingdom
When: Nov. 5
Celebration: Guy Fawkes Night, aka Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night and Fireworks Night, is an annual event that commemorates the night when Guy Fawkes (part of a group that attempted to assassinate King James I in 1605) was arrested. At the time, people all over London set bonfires to celebrate, and the tradition has continued ever since.
Bonfire Night – England
Location: Devon, England
When: Nov. 5
Celebration: In the village of Devon, they've been celebrating Bonfire Night a little differently for hundreds of years. Runners carry blazing barrels of tar on their shoulders and then race them in the streets.
Yee Peng Festival – Thailand
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand (although celebrations occur across the country)
When: Mid-November (the full moon of the 12th lunar month)
Celebration: Locals believe that this full moon is the biggest and brightest, making it an ideal time to release a lantern into the sky. The fiery gesture is meant to represent a wish to welcome a brighter future for the upcoming year.
Loi Krathong – Thailand
Location: Bangkok and Sukhothai, Thailand (as well as other parts of the country)
When: Follows Yee Peng Festival in mid-November
Celebration: Participants release a floating krathong (or vessel) made of plants, flowers and candles into a river as a way to wash away one's sins and wish for a successful upcoming year. It's also seen as a way to thank the gods for rain and the harvest.
La Quema del Diablo – Guatemala
Location: Antigua, Guatemala
When: Dec. 7
Celebration: What translates to "the burning of the devil," La Quema del Diablo is celebrated the night before the date when the Immaculate Conception of Mary is believed to take place in the Catholic Church. Guatemalan families make bonfires that look like the devil in a ceremonial burning meant to purify their homes and ward off evil spirits.
Burning the Clocks – England
Location: Brighton, England
When: Winter Solstice (around Dec. 21)
Celebration: A newer festival on this list, Burning the Clocks started in 1993 as a winter solstice festival that honors the Co-operative Movement and is meant to be the antithesis of the commercialization of Christmas.
Tar Bar'l – England
Location: Allendale, England
When: Dec. 31
Celebration: Similar to some Bonfire Night celebrations, this New Year's Eve ceremony involves 45 local men carrying burning whiskey barrels filled with hot tar through the town of Allendale. Why, you ask? Well, the tradition has been taking place for at least 160 years and ends with the men tossing the barrels in a ceremonial bonfire for the ultimate "Happy New Year!"