Holidays Around the World, Jan. 11: Burning the Clavie

Burning the Clavie

January 11

The Burning of the Clavie takes place in Burghead, a fishing village in the region of Moray, Scotland, on January 11, or Old New Year’s Eve ( see Old Christmas Day). Local residents make the clavie themselves by sawing a tar barrel into a larger and smaller half, breaking the larger half into pieces and stuffing it inside the smaller half along with tinder and tar. Once this is done they nail the clavie to a stout post. According to tradition, the clavie must be made without the use of store-bought tools. Therefore a local blacksmith makes the nail, which is hammered to the post with a stone.

At dusk the Clavie King sets the clavie on fire and leads a procession in which the burning barrel is dragged around the harbor and town. The procession stops at the homes of prominent townspeople, and paraders toss a chunk of the clavie through their doors, a custom said to bring good luck to the inhabitants. The parade proceeds to a high headland along the coast, where the flames from the clavie ignite a huge bonfire. At the end of the festivities, the clavie tumbles down the hill. Town inhabitants gather pieces of the clavie to take home with them, using them to light a New Year fire believed to keep witches and evil spirits away for a year.

Because the headland where the bonfire takes place is also the site of a ruined Roman temple, some people believe that the celebration is a survival of an ancient Roman custom. Others trace the festival back to Scandinavia, while another group suspects that it comes from the Druids, members of a pre-Christian religious order that developed among the ancient Celts.

Aberdeen and Grampian Tourist Board
Exchange House
26/28 Exchange St.
Aberdeen, AB11 6PH United Kingdom
44-12-2428-8811; fax: 44-12-2428-8838
OxYear-1999, p. 31
YrFest-1972, p. 120

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