Fireballs ceremony, Stonehaven, Scotland

The coastal town of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, is busy clearing up after last week's storm to prepare for its annual fireball procession on December 31st, which attracts enthusiastic crowds of thousands. At Hogmanay, 45 swingers will participate in the traditional event. Volunteer locals construct parcels of newspaper, sticks and flammable materials and wrap them in wire. Balls are made from combustible materials: each swinger uses a different mixture.

At the sound of the New Year bells from the Old Town House, the fireballs are set alight.  The marchers set off, swinging the balls around their heads. The parade proceeds along the High Street, and the balls are then thrown into Stonehaven harbour.

The modern spectacle dates back 150 years, with origins in fisherfolk festivities. Long before Christianity, torch-bearing processions involving fire took place, coinciding with the winter solstice and the position of the sun. The roots of the ceremony embrace the force of purification - fire consuming evil and warding off malevolent spirits.

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