The Scottish village celebrating New Year tonight

In one Scottish village tonight, the New Year celebrations are only just beginning.

Thursday, 11th January 2018, 5:26 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th January 2018, 5:35 pm
The Burning of the Clavie marks the traditional New Year celebration in Burghead, Moray, every January 11. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr/Captain Oates.

The Burning of the Clavie will take place in Burghead, Moray, with the traditional fire ceremony little changed for hundreds of years.

The ceremony is always held on January 11, when Hogmanay was celebrated in Scotland until the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the 18th Century.

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Rather than scrap the traditional Clavie burning, residents decided to celebrate New Year twice instead with January 11 remaining key to the village calendar and identity.

Many people come home to Burghead for the Burning of the Clavie, with around 4,500 people usually attending - three times the village population.

The Clavie, a 100kg barrel filled with wooden staves and tar and mounted on a large post is carried round the town followed by a large crowd.

The final destination of the Clavie is on Doorie Hill on the ramparts of an Iron Age fort, where it is firmly wedged on a stone altar.

After refuelling, the Clavie is allowed to burn out and fall down the hill when crowds chase after smouldering embers and gather them up for good luck.

Pieces are sent to villagers - or Brochers - around the world with some householders traditionally pinning the pieces of burnt wood above their front doors.

Attempts have been made by the authorities to ban the celebration, or at least curtail it, partly on the grounds of heathenry but latterly more for health and safety reasons.

The only change that has been made to the ceremony is that stewards have been added to the procession to keep people at a safe distance from the flames.

Dan Ralph, 63, a joiner and undertaker, is the Clavie King - and has been since 1988.

It was his father, Jock, who revived the ceremony with the help of two friends - James ‘Peep’ McKenzie and James ‘Lichtie’ McKenzie - after returning from service during World War II, when the burning was banned during the blackout.

Mr Ralph said you need a certain “thrawness” to live in the wind-battered point of Burghead - and that it was probably this spirit that led to the survival of the Clavie burning in the village.

He said: “Clavie burning was popular along the north east coast but we believe that all the towns and villages eventually changed to the new calendar - apart from Burghead - and celebrated the new Hogmanay.

“We have stuck rigidly to the old calendar. “There have been recorded attempts to ban it, ostensibly by the church, as it thought to be heathen.

“But these attempts were all ignored. There have been more recent attempts by the Kirk to make it safer for the crowds and we have had to concede slightly.

“Nothing is more important to Burghead than honouring the detail of the original Clavie celebration.”

Without this devotion to the integrity of the ceremony, its future would be at risk, Mr Ralph said.