Light traditions in Europe
Behind the scenes at Europe's winter light festivals
Sick of being at home? Dreaming of a winter escape? Get ready to shrug off those winter blues.
Discover some of Europe's most weird and wonderful winter light traditions. From exploding snowmen and firework festivals to light shows from the heavens. These festivals are sure to brighten your mood. While some of these festivals may not go ahead this year, they are long-lasting traditions, so you can be sure to see them later. For now, dream yourself away...
Bonfire Night, United Kingdom
Heard of Bonfire Night? Love to sparkle? Enjoy this night of fireworks, bonfires and surprises…
You'll be blown away (ahem) by the amazing firework displays and festive atmosphere. Wrap up warm on Bonfire Night and join the chorus of 'oohs' and 'aahs' as you watch the kaleidoscope of exploding lights.
Why on earth is Guy Fawkes thrown onto the bonfire? In the early 1600s, a group of disgruntled Catholics wanted to kill the Protestant king. They thought that the best way to overthrow the monarchy would be to (a) kill James I, and (b) blow up British Parliament with the king in session.
Luckily, the Gunpowder Plot was a total flop, and this band of 'bad boys' were caught in the act. Guy Fawkes was arrested in the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder – now that's a whole lot of explosives! His friends were captured too, and they were hung, drawn and quartered – the maximum penalty for High Treason in those days.
Ironically, Guy Fawkes jumped to his death to avoid the noose. Despite this, his name lives on to this day. That is why effigies of his body are tossed onto bonfires across the country on 5 November.
Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France
Looking for something that outshines run-of-the-mill Christmas markets?
Thought Paris was the city of lights? Think again! Lyon shines even brighter during the Fête des Lumières…
Four million people flock to Lyon to enjoy the spectacular illuminations. Don't be fooled into thinking that this Festival of Lights is a Christmas celebration! The origins of this light tradition are a little dark...
When the Black Death consumed Lyon in 1643, the Lyonnais prayed to the Virgin Mary in their despair, begging her to save them. Call it divine intervention or a total coincidence - but it worked! And the holy-mother became a symbol of hope.
After 209 years, the city wanted to honour her further by unveiling a statue. The universe had other ideas and there was a huge storm, so the celebration was cancelled. However, the Lyonnais were not deterred; thousands of candles were spontaneously lit in houses across the city. Thus, the Festival of Lights was born, and you still can enjoy it to this day.
Tschäggättu, Lötschental valley, Switzerland
Love a good scare? Get ready for horrors that go bump in the night.
Head to the Lötschental valley between the Catholic holiday of Candlemass and Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) and you’ll find the Tschäggättu roaming the streets after dark. These oversized, nightmarish creatures have one goal in mind: to frighten you to death! Luckily, you can't miss them... They wear monstrous wooden masks and furry costumes.
At any moment, they could jump out of the darkness and chase you down the street. They could also steal your woolly hat or push you to the ground. Sound like fun? We think so too, and you'll be screaming with delight.
Disclaimer: this tradition is not for the fainthearted! We can't really call this a light tradition, so take a torch and who knows - maybe we can start our own.
Love to shine? Know how to cultivate your childlike playfulness?
Keep reading - unless the idea of being surrounded by children sends a shiver down your spine.
Get ready to celebrate Liichtmëssdag - also known as Candlemas Day (or the feast of light). Think of Halloween without all the makeup, mischief and poorly sewn costumes!
On Candlemas night, well-behaved children meander the streets and villages of Luxembourg. They have one goal in mind: candy (we told you it was like Halloween). You can't miss them - they'll be holding homemade lanterns and singing songs to chase evil spirits away.
Bring your own lantern and join the procession. After all, you're never too old to embrace your childlike playfulness. Step into the fairytale, and see the night through the eyes of a child...
Northern lights, Norway
Bored with manmade festivals? Watch one of nature's best light traditions. Imagine witnessing the stunning luminosity of the aurora borealis in Norway.
March is a good time to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, without the midwinter temperatures. Be on the lookout for the sparkling tail of the so-called “arctic firefox”! This elusive creature from Nordic folklore can only be seen on cloudless nights. Did you know that revontulet - the Finnish word for the northern lights means "fox fires?" According to legend, hunters have been looking for this mythical creature for hundreds of years. To witness this natural phenomenon, you will need to head north of the Arctic Circle. You can make it a tradition of your own to follow the trail of the elusive firefox once per year.
Spring Festival, Zurich, Switzerland
Love a good explosion? Time to celebrate the end of winter.
Head to Zurich on 19 April to experience one of Europe's most unique and explosive light traditions...
Meet Böögg, the exploding snowman! Imagine a 30-foot-high bonfire with a massive snowman on top. Then imagine a big party with thousands of people watching the bonfire as it burns. As the flames grow, so does the excitement. That's because the locals know a secret!
They all know that there's going to be a huge BANG! You see, the snowman is packed full of explosives and the fervid crowd is waiting to hear Böögg's 'boom'.
Fun fact: Böögg is a weatherman too! According to tradition, the faster the bonfire burns and Böögg explodes, the warmer the summer.