The Burning of the Clavie is today and comes with a wild weather forecast for tonight as a storm battered my windows all night in Burghead in Morayshire.
The Burning of the Clavie – Why 11th January? This is the date of the Burning of the Clavie, a fire festival unique to Burghead, which greets the New Year. The significance of the 11th January dates back to the 1750’s, when the Julian calendar was reformed in Britain. The new Gregorian calendar was introduced. People rioted, demanding back their 11 days – but not in Burghead. Brochers decided to have the best of both worlds, by celebrating New Year twice – on 1st January and the 11th January.
Possession of a piece of the Clavie is said to bring good luck for the coming year and pieces are sent around the world to exiled ‘Brocher
FINAL preparations are underway in Burghead as local folk get ready to celebrate the Pictish New Year with the traditional burning of the Clavie tonight. If your coming wrap up warm and get there early.
Thousands are attracted to the Broch for the annual event, which sees a tar-soaked barrel set alight and paraded around the streets to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead.
The flaming spectacle of January 11 is led by Clavie King Dan Ralph and the local men who make up the Clavie Crew.
At exactly 6pm on Wednesday, a burning peat will be used to light the Clavie before it is heaved onto the shoulders of crew members and marched around the town.
Smouldering staves are handed out to householders and local publicans along the way and tradition has it that possession of a piece of the burning Clavie brings good luck during the coming year.
The Clavie’s final resting place is atop the altar of the old Pictish fort at Doorie Hill, where the fire is fuelled sending burning embers into the night.
“The barrel is actually made and the Clavie will be put together on Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday, it will be lit at the Old Manse Dyke on Granary Street at 6pm and we’ll be off.”
Condemned in the eighteenth century as “an abominable heathenish practice”, Brochers continue to observe the ritual every January 11.
The event takes place on the night of January 11 (the original Hogmanay before the calendar changed in 1660). The “Clavie” is a half barrel filled with wood shavings and tar. In the past, it would have been a herring barrel. Today, iron-hooped whisky barrels daubed with creosote are used.
The barrel is nailed onto a carrying post – the same nail is ritually used every year – which is hoisted onto the shoulders of a local villager.
The clavie is then lit, traditionally by a peat from the hearth of an old Burghead Provost and from there carried by the elected Clavie King
Each of the ten or so men (traditionally fishermen) take it in turn to carry the burning clavie clockwise around the streets of Burghead, occasionally stopping at the houses of former eminent citizens to present a smouldering faggot of the clavie in the doorway to bring the household good luck for the year ahead.
The men proceed to the stone altar of an old fort on the ancient Doorie Hill, the clavie is set down here and more fuel is added until the hillside is ablaze with a beacon of fire.
When the Clavie falls to the ground, it is the official start of the Burghead New Year. The flaming embers are snatched up by onlookers and used to kindle a special New Year fire at home, kept for luck or are even sent to relations or friends who have moved away from Burghead.
As well as drawing comparisons with the Celtic festival of Samhain, various theories link its origins to the Picts (there was once a Pictish fort at Burghead) and the Romans. The word Clavie may have originated from the Latin Clavus meaning “nail” and it is speculated that the fort at Doorie Hill may have been an ancient Roman altar. However, contrary views suggest that there is not enough evidence to prove that the Romans came this far North. The festival also has many similarities with ancient Norse culture.
Whatever the origins, the practice of Clavie burning probably took place at many villages in the North East centuries ago, but was not always tolerated by the powers-that-be. It was condemned by the strict presbyterian establishment as “superstitious, idolatrous and sinfule, an abominable heathenish practice”. In 1704 a law was passed against Clavies. But the ritual practice of Clavie burning still continues each January 11th…
The Burning of the Clavie dates much further back than the 1750s, of course. Like many other fire festivals, its origins are lost in the mists of time.
It will be an interesting night in Burghead.