Today marks the shortest day and longest night in the Northern hemisphere — the Winter Solstice. In Brighton, the end of winter and the approaching new year is celebrated with its annual fire festival — called the Burning of the Clocks.
Initiated in 1994 the celebrations utilise art and community to offer an alternative to the religious festivals of the holiday season.
The event sees locals making their own lanterns, taking them through the city’s streets in a procession to Brighton beach before piling them onto a bonfire.
As well as spectators the parade includes performers and musicians to create a carnivalesque atmosphere.
Last year the procession saw 2,000 people lining the streets to take part. The ritualistic burning of the lanterns is representative of the year’s passing and the festivities conclude with a fire show, firework display and dancing.
The event is intended as a non-secular way of “welcoming in the new sun” and counteracting the more commercial aspects of the holiday season. Costumes, decorations and lanterns are made from withies (willow canes) and white tissue paper, with the lanterns being intended to symbolise “people’s hopes and dreams”.
The event is organised by Same Sky, a local arts charity, said:
[It’s] an antidote to the excesses of the commercial Christmas…The lantern makers become part of the show as they invest the lanterns with their wishes, hopes, and fears and then pass them into the fire. Same Sky are masters at creating new urban rituals to replace those traditional festivals that were lost in the dash to be new and non superstitious.
As part of the event, Same Sky carries out free lantern-making community workshops for the homeless, young carers and single parents of the city. They also provide lantern making kits to others who wish to participate.
Each year a different theme, related to the concept of time, is incorporated into the celebration which attracts over 20,000 spectators.
The sun is due to set today at 3:53pm London time, with Brighton’s festivities officially kicking off at 6:30pm