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The burning of the Clavie



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The village of Burghead in Moray celebrates the New Year with the Burning of the Clavie, a unique event that takes place on 11 January each year.

Just as the rest of Scotland are recovering from their Hogmanay hangover the residents of the small Moray village of Burghead are preparing for their own very special and unique celebrations to welcome the New Year.

The Burning of the Clavie takes place on 11 January when locals welcome the New Year with a fire ceremony, which has ancient roots and is believed to bring good luck for the coming year.

The clavie, which means basket in Gaelic, is carefully crafted before the ceremony each year with a barrel atop a long pole, which is then packed with tar-soaked sticks and mixed with peat, before being set alight.

It has to be specially made to leave a space for the carrier’s head below the staves holding up the burning clavie, which is very heavy making it no mean feat to carry it safely through the village.

The master of ceremonies, known as the 'Clavie King', will start proceedings and a carefully chosen member of the 'Clavie Crew', a squad of veterans often clad in old clothes and overalls bearing the scorch marks from previous ceremonies, will be given the honour of carrying the Clavie.

Becoming a member of the Clavie Crew is one of the highest honours the community of Burghead can bestow upon its men and some local families have been represented in the crew for several generations.

They follow a set route through the village and along the way stop off to give smouldering embers from the clavie to householders who cherish them as tokens of good luck for the next twelve months.

Once they have completed their route they finish as always at the top of the Doorie Hill, where the ramparts of an ancient Pictish fort lie and there the Clavie Crew throw tar and creosote around the burning clavie, which is wedged into a stone pillar, to encourage the flames to envelop the barrel.

The clavie is then allowed to burn out and as the barrel collapses the embers are scattered all over the hilltop before being collected and given out as lucky tokens to onlookers while some are kept to give to family and friends.

Once the clavie has completely burnt out the pole is retrieved and carried from house to house as the Clavie Crew first foot round the village to wish people a happy New Year and enjoy a dram or two.

Many people may wonder why the community of Burghead celebrate the New Year 11 days later than the rest of the world but this goes back to when the Georgian calendar was introduced in he 1750s.

The introduction of the Georgian calendar meant 11 days were lost and all over the country there were riots demanding that it was changed back and the missing days reinstated.

The people of Burghead did not riot however but simply chose to have the best of both worlds and mark New Year on both the old and new date and therefore enjoy celebrating New Year twice!