Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Burning of the Clavie

Though my calendar shows 12 January, it is actually January 1st ... according to the Julian Calendar, accepted in Britain until 1752 (in Alaska until 1867 and Russia until 1917).

That means last night must have been Hogmanay and a night of celebration! And so it was for the folk of Burghead in North East Scotland who celebrate with a fire festival, the Burning of the Clavie, every 11 January.

A burning tar barrel is carried flaming through the streets and burning staves are given to residents to bring them luck in the New Year. Finally the clavie forms the nucleus of a bonfire on the rampart of an ancient Pictish fort.  Burghead was the heart of the northern Pictish kingdom from the 4th century until destroyed by the Vikings in the 9th century.

What is it about Scotland and fire festivals? At Hogmanay in Stonehaven near Aberdeen locals make up balls of chicken wire which they fill with flammable material and march through the streets, swinging the burning balls round their heads, accompanied by a pipe band.

In Shetland at ceremonies called Up Helly Aa they throw burning torches into a replica viking ship.

It's all a wonderful excuse for bringing the community together and brightening up the long nights with a good bonfire and a party!