The Fireballs, Stonehaven
The ancient Stonehaven Fireball ceremony starts at 11pm with crowds beginning to gather from 10.30pm.
Stonehaven Fireball swingers at midnight
The Ancient Fireballs Ceremony at the Scottish fishing village of Stonehaven, 16 miles south of Aberdeen, is one of the most unique Hogmanay festivals in Scotland. At the strike of midnight the High street is lit up as around fifty to sixty local fireball-swingers make their way, swinging their fireballs above their heads, through their town.
It looks dangerous. But, don't be alarmed. The fireballs are very safe - packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes.
What's a fireball made of?
The ingredients of a fireball comprise of combustible and oily waste matter (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal) soaked in paraffin and held together in a case of wire mesh.
The 'balls are made as heavy as each 'swinger feels they can handle--5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3feet in diameter and in the past they have been recorded to last for 2 hours!--now however they only last for 20 mins. max.
Over 40 swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, march down the High street to the accompaniment of pipes and drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the fireballers have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.
As you would expect, fireball-swinging is an energetic activity. As one regular participant records: "I can personally attest to the effort needed to continue swinging for the 10-15 minutes the ball will burn.
There were 12000 people there in 2002. The most ever.
If the best estimate for the population of Stonehaven is 12000 in normal circumstances then at a doubling of the population to see the event puts it well up on the Edinburgh bash!
It has been reported that it took some folk 90 minutes to get out of the town afterwards!
The ceremony dates from a fishermen's festival in the 19th century but these torch processions can be dated back to before Christianity. There are other theories on the significance of the festival:
1. That it coincides with the winter solstice and the fireballs swinging relate to the sun.
2. A pre-Christian theory that the fireballs purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.
3. That some time in the Dark Ages a shooting star appeared above what is now Stonehaven. Thereafter, by coincidence, the living nearby may have had bumper crops. The seers of the tribe then attributed this prosperity to the coming of the shooting star. The Fireball is a mimic of the coming of the shooting star and prosperity.
These days the celebration has become such a popular event that, in the interests of safety, barriers are erected to separate the swingers and pipe bands, and control the thousands that come to spectate. But the spectacle and atmosphere are still second to none.
Images and multimedia from Stonehaven's Fireball swingers at Stonehaven Fireball website.