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The fireball carriers swing their blazing fireballs around their heads and bodies as they make their way towards the harbour.



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Every Hogmanay the streets of Stonehaven on the Aberdeenshire coast are lit up with the magnificent fireballs procession, which has ancient roots and is also a modern day attraction.

As midnight strikes to mark the start of the New Year the fireballs procession begins at the Mercat Cross in Stonehaven as 60 fireball swingers come down the High Street in a spectacular and unique display to celebrate Hogmanay.

With dazzling skill and dexterity the fireball carriers swing their blazing fireballs around their heads and bodies as they make their way towards the harbour where the still burning fireballs are tossed into the sea.

The fireballs are seen as a way of helping speed on the exit of the Old Year and herald the beginning of the New Year as the procession makes its way through the town led by a small pipe band.

Each fireball is a round cage of wire netting about two feet in circumference which is packed with all sorts of flammable material like oily rags, twigs and cones from trees and small pieces of coal all of which is soaked in paraffin to ensure a fiery display.

Attached to the end of a five foot length of galvanised wire rope with a handle the fireball is then swung around throughout the duration of the procession which is no mean feat considering each fireball weighs up to twenty pounds.

The fireballs procession has been celebrated in its present form since the mid 19th century when it was primarily a fisherman’s festival but over the years the number of fishermen working in the town dwindled and so did the popularity of the fireballs.

At one point the fireballs festival was kept going by just a small group of determined enthusiasts before its popularity boomed once more and the fireball swingers started to be drawn from the wider community and now include men and women from all walks of life.

Although it was celebrated as a fishermen’s festival from the 19th century the origins of the fireballs festival stretch much further back in time to Pagan times when important events were often marked with fire festivals.

There are two theories relating to the origins of the Stonehaven festival one that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the sun and another that suggests the fireballs were seen as purifying the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

Given the long and dark winters experienced in northern Scotland, where daylight lasts for only around seven hours a day during midwinter, it is no real surprise that a fire festival emerged in Stonehaven where people may have used the fireballs as "suncharms" to urge the passing of the winter.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the fireballs ceremony takes place shortly after the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year and indeed it is known that present day Christmas in fact superseded an ancient heathen festival to celebrate the birth of the sun on the shortest day of the year.

However the importance of fire in warding off evil spirits also probably had a role to play in the fireballs festival over the centuries as fishermen were fearful of evil spirits and witches and by banishing the fireballs into the sea the spirits would also be banished.

No matter the precise origins of the procession the Stonehaven fireballs festival as it is celebrated today is one of the most spectacular sights to be found anywhere on Hogmanay.