Firing In The New Year

We fancied doing something different for New Year’s Eve 2018. Usually the end of the year in our family is not celebrated much; rather we limp lamely towards its end. We quietly dozing off in front of various telly offerings, struggling even to reach midnight. As Sassenachs, New Year’s Eve or Hogmanay, isn’t big in the DNA.

Browsing online, my husband spotted the ‘something different’ and so it was we found ourselves heading north to Stonehaven on December 31st for the famous Fireball ceremony. We booked a Premier Inn to lay our heads after the event and headed out to Stonehaven early evening, having pre-booked a meal in an Indian restaurant – a good move as the town was heaving with visitors.

Fire ceremonies, festivals and traditions are legendary and global and Stonehaven’s is one of the best known, welcoming visitors from all over the world including Australia and Japan. Participants, known as swingers, build their own fireball. The event starts just after midnight and lasts about 20-25 minutes. Watched by thousands, the swingers whirl their burning fireballs around their heads as they parade up and down the Old Town High Street.

The idea is to burn off bad spirits left over from the old year so that the spirit of the New Year can begin afresh. When exactly The Stonehaven Fireballs Ceremony began is not known. The earliest recorded mention of the Ceremony dates back to 1908, however it’s thought the event was created before then.


As the old Town House bell chimes midnight, the Fireballs are lit and swingers emerge from Bervie Braes onto the High Street. Street entertainment starts earlier from about 11pm, this year provided by Newtonhill and Howe of the Mearns Pipebands, the Guarana Street Band and Pyro Celtica.

About 50 swingers took part in this year’s ceremony, male and female, young and old. Swingers are drawn from members of the Stonehaven community. Numbers are restricted and new swingers are asked to show their support for the event by volunteering as marshals before being offered the chance to take part.

Each swinger makes their own fireball and decides on the size, weight and content, although they are each given the same key components –chicken wire for the cage,  heavy wire to enclose the cage and to make the handle and tying wire to bind the lot together.

Common ingredients for the ball include wood, coal, paper cardboard and material, including lots of old pairs of jeans minus the buttons and zips! Balls are tested prior to use and just before the ceremony they are doused in paraffin before being lit. Just twenty minutes or so later the balls are thrown into the harbour using whatever energy the swinger may have left. It’s certainly a workout with a difference.  From what we saw most swingers legged it up and down the High Street several times, whirling their fiery cargo high into the air.

The whole event is concluded with a fireworks display set off from Stonehaven Harbour, which can be seen all over the town.

All in all, a visually stunning and fun start to 2019!


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