Come winter, culturally significant and visually inspiring celebrations of fire and light are a dime a dozen. Here’s The Sherp’s constructive list of illuminating light festivals celebrated all over the world.
1. Yi Peng and Loy Krathong (Lantern Festival)
When: November 22-25
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
This beautiful Thai festival of lights is a spiritual, ancient and sacred affair that invites new beginnings via spiritual cleansing, which turns out to be a spectacular show that people come to watch from around the world. Attendees converge to release the khom roi (lit lanterns) into the night sky, forming stunning displays of light. During this key ritual, krathong, or small floating vessels made from banana stalks decorated with incense, offerings, flowers and candles are released into rivers and other water bodies. The festival includes parades, musical performances, traditional dances, beauty pageants, lantern-making contests, and of course, a whole lot of amazing food!
2. Lewes Bonfire Night
When: November 5
Where: Lewes, England
Every year on November 5, Brits light bonfires and fireworks to remember their good luck in stumbling upon Guy Fawkes just before he attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes’ Day, or Bonfire Night is celebrated throughout the UK, but no other place sees a more magnificent bonfire celebration on this night than the city of Lewes. There are 7 societies that organise torch-making parties, effigie-building committees and prominent bonfires in the city. They also wear similar-themed costumes, generally based at some point in Western history. Lewes Bonfire Night is a massive party with torch fires and processions that people actually prepare for and look forward to all year!
3. Kobe Luminarie
Where: Kobe, Japan
Every December, Japan is the place to visit if visually inspiring celebrations are your thing. The clear air and crispy weather makes it the perfect setting for light festivals like the spectacular Kobe Luminarie.
Kobe Luminarie has quite the history. As some of you may know, the city of Kobe (known for its world class beef and being the birthplace of Kobe Bryant) was hit with a terrible earthquake way back in 1995. Because of its proximity to the epicentre of the earthquake, it underwent the most devastation to its infrastructure and local’s lives. The earthquake left the city without electricity and was incidentally immersed in darkness for a while. To lift the spirits of people and bring back some hope to the city, a light festival named Kobe Luminarie was started featuring lights donated by the Italian government. The festival including installations by an Italian designer Valerio Festi and Kobe resident Hirokazu Imaoka. Since then the festival, (because of its immense popularity) has been held every year as a reminder of the hope that follows every tragedy. By each year, the installations and production gets better as over three million people flock to Kobe to witness the grand festival.
4. Winter Illuminations Festival
When: November to March
Where: Nabana no Sato, Japan
Let us just tell you this, the Winter Illuminations at Nabana No Sato are beyond breathtaking. This five-month festival (from November to March) features the most lovely displays of light at a botanical garden in Nagashima. During the five months, the park is transformed into a visual paradise with millions of sparkling LED lights cast over massive gardens and water-bodies. From experimental ‘sunrise’ light shows, illuminated rainbows and captivating tunnels of light – the experience is magical.
5. Up Helly Aa
Where: Shetland, Scotland
There are thousands of existing cultural festivals that are a depiction of the old world and new, and the Up Helly Aa fire festival is no different. For the Scots, burning barrels of tar mark the end of the season of Yule, known to most people as Christmas season. Although the Lerwick tradition of ‘tar barrelling’ was banned back in 1884, the tradition of burning torches and holding processions, is pretty much what Up Helly Aa is all about. The festival that originated in Shetland, Scotland, takes place around mid-January with thousands of men and young boys taking active part . This group of men, dressed like Viking warriors are called The Jarl Squad. The procession ends with torches being thrown into a replica of a Viking longship or galley. Once the march is completed and the Galley is set on fire, the Jarl Squads and their Guizer head to local spots like schools, hotels and halls to host and be part of private parties or ‘after-parties’ if you will. To make things more interesting, each squad indulges in activities like theatre, singing or dancing to entertain everyone else.
6. Light Festival In Ghent
Where: Ghent, Belgium
Light sculptures, installations and spectacular LED projects are the highlights of the Ghent Light Festival, that is set to take place in January. Students will demonstrate experiments with light and Ghent University has created an interactive route with scientific light installations in the UFO building. Enjoy the walk and experience the surprising variety of light creations.
7. Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
When: January to February
Where: Heilongjiang, Harbin,China
Every year, during the months of January and February, China hosts the wonderful Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, that often rakes in a turnout of 800,000 people – making it the best time to visit the country. The festival takes place in the province of Heilongjiang, Harbin – where unused land is turned into a temporary city made of illuminated ice that includes towering ice sculptures of birds, animals, characters and even an amusement park and an ice slide!
8. The Amsterdam Light Festival
When: November to January
Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thanks to the Amsterdam Light Festival, Amsterdam comes alive every winter and is transformed into a spectacle of light and wonder. With the help of local and contemporary light artistes, historical monuments, board walks, canals and almost every nook and corner in Amsterdam is decorated with LED lights and the like. This year, the 55-day festival is dedicated to theme ‘Friendship’ and can be visited from 28 November 2015 to 17 January 2016!