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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac: Burning of the Clavie

Air Date: Week of January 4, 2002

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This week, facts about the annual burning of the clavie. Every 11th of January, a fiery ritual marks a second New Year? celebration in the little town of Burghead, Scotland.

Transcript

[BAGPIPE MUSIC]

TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey. While most folks have put away their New Year's hats and streamers until next year, people who live in a town in Northern Scotland have found a way to keep the party going, just one more night. Every 11th of January, residents of Burghead, Scotland heartily celebrate the Burning of the Clavie. The tradition dates back to a few centuries before the birth of Christ, when Pict people, the earlier settlers of the area, inhabited the fishing village on the North Sea. At this coldest and darkest time of the year, the Picts thought it a good idea to liven things up a bit by carrying an enormous torch around town. The torch is called the clavie and it's made from a large whisky barrel that's split in half. One half is filled with sticks and tar; the other serves as a base. Legend has it the two halves of the barrel represent the old and the new years coming together, and that the fire burns away the past year's sins.

A town resident is appointed the Clavie King and is given the task of lighting the barrel from a local hearth. He and nine helpers carry the clavie clockwise around town and up to the ruins of an ancient Pictish fort, where more fire is added and the clavie burns until it falls apart. People snatch up the embers for good luck, and the coals are sometimes sent to relatives who've moved away.

The clavie ritual used to be held on the first day of the new year, but in the 1750s the Scottish calendar went from Julian to Gregorian and New Year's was moved up 11 days. While other parts of Scotland rioted over losing the time, the people of Burghead decided to make the best of it and simply have two New Year's celebrations. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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