From sunrises on the winter solstice to great twirling balls of fire, the United Kingdom doesn't batten down the hatches and close down for the winter. Its eclectic collection of festivals go on year-round, including when during its most wet and chilly months. For those that find themselves across the pond during the wintertime, it might be a little more difficult to find massive music festivals or carnivals, but visitors will still find their fair share of age-old festivals. Many of which celebrate the United Kingdom's long and occasionally bloody history in the strangest ways.
The Twelfth Night
Although on the outside the Twelfth Night looks to be a religious event marking the biblical day of the Epiphany, but the celebration in fact still contains some very striking pagan elements and traditions that can be traced back to the pre-Christian Midwinter feasts. During the Twelfth Night, crowds gather along London's Bankside where the Holly Man is born along the Thames in a small boat before joining the crowd. The Holly Man, a variation of the Green Man whose face can be found hidden in many churches in the United Kingdom, is a pagan figure that represents life, death, fertility and rebirth - a figure that binds mankind and nature together. This leafy green man joins the crowd for wassails, or traditional toasts of mulled wine. Aside from watching the Holly Man come to life, the Bankside festival also includes a traditional Mummer's play and the crowning of the King Bean and Queen Pea, two guests that are lucky enough to find a legume in their Twelfth Night cake.
Up Helly Aa
On the last Tuesday of every January, the men of Lerwick don their hornless Viking helmets and grab their torches to set fire to a long ship for the Up Helly Aa festival, one of the biggest fire festivals in Europe. Although this distinctly Scandinavian festival draws massive crowds to the most Scandinavian part of the United Kingdom (with Norway holding ownership of Shetland until the 15th century) Up Helly Aa is not actually an authentic Viking celebration. This festival came into being in the 19th century as something of a novelty way to ring in the New Year. However, its lack of ancient ties still doesn't deter the tourists that come to visit or the locals that love to celebrate it. The day-long celebration begins with a march through the streets before being punctuated by drinking, dancing and fighting, but ends with 900 burning torches being tossed into a large replica Viking longboat.
Sunrise on the Winter Solstice
Sunrise on the Winter Solstice is a quintessential hippie festival, although unlike its sister festival during the Summer Solstice, it is not everyone's favourite way to spend the shortest day of the year. Not many tourists come out for this festival, but what remains are hazy-eyed new agers and beard and fur-laden neo-Druids. It is nothing short of an experience, if nothing else. However, the recent fencing off of the Stonehenge and the landmark itself backed by one of the United Kingdom's busiest roads take a bit of the magic away. That being said, watching the sunrise over one of the world's oldest monuments with a crowd of shivering fringe dwellers can be a life-changing experience. As day dawns around 8AM, the sun casts a perfect beam of light through the three main stones of the henge. It is thought that this exact moment was the most sacred to the Neolithic people, which is why historians speculate the Stonehenge was built.
The Scots are known for their particularly rowdy Hogmanay, or New Year, celebrations and few celebrate more fervently than Stonehaven. This small fishing village in the northeastern part of the country braves the bitter cold on the last day of the year at midnight to host a parade through the street. However, the twirling fire torches that spin enormous balls of fire above the marchers' heads probably do keep things at least a little toasty. At the end of the parade, led by a whole crew of bagpipes, the fireballs are hurled into the North Sea. Afterwards, the real fun begins as people rush from neighbour to neighbour in order to 'first foot' them, which is essentially just taking a nip of their whiskey.
The Big Reunion
The Big Reunion is the biggest indoor winter music festival in the United Kingdom. This massive concert series takes place on the sunny seaside resort of Skegness in Lincolnshire on the English East coast. The location itself would be the perfect getaway if the Big Reunion didn't take place at the end of November. While visitors won't find too many good reasons to go out in the cold, the Big Reunion easily keeps music fans entertained inside the Butlins indoor resort. The music festival itself brings together all the native chart-topping UK bands including Gorgon City, Pendulum, DJ EZ and The Wideboys for, well, a big reunion! Visitors can not only enjoy a weekend of countless concerts, but visitors will be treated to all the amenities at the resort including spas, pool parties and a chance to meet and party with the bands themselves.
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