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The Best Winter Fire Festivals in Scotland

Fiery Hogmanay and January Festivals in Scotland

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Combine the primitive impulse to light up the long nights, the ancient idea that fire purifies and chases away evil spirits and the natural Scottish impulse to party to the wee small hours and you end up with some of the best mid-winter celebrations in Europe.

At one time, most Scottish towns celebrated the New Year with huge bonfires and torchlight processions. Most have now disappeared, but those that are left are real humdingers. Here are the best January Fire Festivals in Scotland.

The Stonehaven Fireball Festival

Stonehaven Fireball Festival
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At least 60 dare devils parade through the town on New Year's Eve swinging 16 pound balls of fire around themselves and over their heads. Each "swinger" has his or her own secret recipe for creating the fireball and keeping it lit. Thousands come to watch this famous event on the North Sea, south of Aberdeen.

The Burning of the Clavie

A bizarre ritual involving a flaming, tar filled barrel on a pole that is marched around this Moray town before becoming the basis of an even bigger, beacon fire on a hill. The origins could be Pictish, Celtic or Roman - nobody really knows. In the past, clergymen tried to ban it as a heathen abomination, but it persists, as exciting and scary as ever.

Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa in Shetland
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A thousand costumed, torch carrying Vikings spend all day parading a Viking galley through Lerwick, Shetland's main port. There's a great deal of rowdy, Viking singing and then, at the sea, the torchbearers throw their torches into the ship and set it ablaze. The Viking festival goes on for about 24 hours. If you can't make it to Shetland at the end of January, you might meet up with the Up Helly Aa Vikings in Edinburgh, where they lead that city's torchlight parade for Edinburgh Hogmanay.

The Biggar Bonfire

The huge New Year's Eve bonfire in the center of this South Lanarkshire town has been going on for hundreds of years. There's a torchlight parade, pipers and drummers and an annual ritual with the town's oldest resident lighting the fire.

The Comrie Flambeaux Procession

Like something out of a horror movie, the townsfolk of this Perthshire town set fully grown birch trees, soaked for weeks in paraffin, aflame. They march the eight huge torches around the town before throwing them, with their cargo of a year's worth of evil spirits, into a river.

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