Every year, on January 11, a small town in Scotland celebrates the new year with a unique fire festival called Clavie. The festival dates back to the 18th century and involves carrying a burning barrel of tar around the town and setting it on a hilltop. The Clavie is said to bring good luck and prosperity to the town and its people.
What is Clavie and how is it celebrated?
Clavie is a fire festival that takes place in Burghead, a coastal town in Moray, Scotland. The festival is held on January 11, which is the old New Year’s Day according to the Julian calendar. The festival is believed to have Pictish origins and to be a survival of ancient pagan customs.
The main feature of the festival is the Clavie itself, which is a wooden barrel filled with tar and nailed with wooden staves. The Clavie is lit at dusk and carried by a group of men called the Clavie Crew around the town. The Clavie Crew stops at various points to distribute pieces of the burning barrel to the residents, who keep them as lucky charms. The Clavie is then taken to a stone altar on a hill called Doorie Hill, where it is fixed on a metal pole and left to burn until it falls apart. The ashes and embers are collected by the people and used to light their first fire of the new year.
Why is Clavie celebrated and what does it symbolize?
Clavie is celebrated to mark the beginning of the new year and to ward off evil spirits. The festival is also a way of honoring the town’s history and identity, as Burghead was once a major Pictish settlement and the site of a large fort. The Clavie is said to represent the sun, which was an important symbol for the Picts. The fire is also seen as a source of warmth and light in the dark winter months.
The festival is also a social occasion, as the whole town participates in the celebration and welcomes visitors from near and far. The Clavie Crew is composed of local men who are chosen by tradition and inheritance. The leader of the crew is called the Clavie King and wears a special hat and coat. The Clavie Crew is accompanied by a pipe band and cheered by the crowd as they carry the Clavie around the town. The festival ends with a bonfire and a fireworks display on Doorie Hill.
How has Clavie changed over the years and what are the challenges it faces?
Clavie has been celebrated for over 250 years, but it has not always been easy to keep the tradition alive. The festival was banned by the authorities in 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted and the new year was moved to January 1. The people of Burghead defied the ban and continued to celebrate Clavie on the old date. The festival was also interrupted by the two world wars, when the use of fire was restricted. The festival resumed after the wars and has been going strong ever since.
However, Clavie still faces some challenges in the modern era. The festival requires a lot of preparation and coordination, as well as safety measures and permissions. The festival also depends on the availability of materials, such as tar and wood, which are becoming scarce and expensive. The festival also has to cope with the effects of climate change, such as strong winds and rain, which can affect the burning of the Clavie. The festival also has to balance the preservation of its heritage with the adaptation to the changing times and tastes of the people.
Despite these challenges, Clavie remains a popular and cherished festival that attracts thousands of spectators every year. The festival is a source of pride and joy for the people of Burghead and a unique attraction for the visitors. The festival is also a testament to the resilience and spirit of the town and its people, who have kept the flame of Clavie alive for generations.