Scotland is a country of breathtaking landscapes, distinctive national music, delicious food and of course – whisky. But Scotland has a lot more to offer, and some of the most interesting events are held during winter in different parts of this wonderful country. In this article, we bring you some of the most popular fire festivals in Scotland.
The origins of fire festivals
People from all over Scotland used to celebrate New Year with bonfires and torchlight processions. These traditions reach back to the Norse traditions and their celebration of winter solstice. Nowadays, they celebrate the history of Scotland and the spirit of its people. The customs have disappeared through centuries, but fire festivals emerged from this tradition. They are held during winter, mostly in January and February, and they are all spectacular.
Up Helly Aa
This is the biggest, the oldest and the most popular Scottish fire festival. It is held in Lerwick, a town on Shetland Isle every last Tuesday of January. It started in the 1880s, and it was held ever since, with several pauses due to the death of Queen Victoria and two World Wars.
The festival is planned a year in advance, and it lasts the whole day and night. It combines the procession of 800 men dressed as Vikings carrying flaming torches through the town and turning them into a giant bonfire at the end of the procession.
The Stonehaven Fireballs
In Stonehaven, a small coastal Scottish town, the celebration of New Year’s Eve is quite dramatic and fiery. Shortly before midnight on the last day of the year, at least 45 strong men in kilts light the fireballs and whirl them through the town’s streets. The tradition began around the 19th century, with a purpose of warding off the evil spirits and purifying the town.
The spectacle is marvelous and exciting, but also quite dangerous, so the town offers online streaming for those who do not want or cannot attend the event.
The Burning of the Clavie
Burghead, a village in northeastern Scotland, is the place of one of the strangest fire festivals in the country. Clavie is a half barrel filled with wood shavings, tar and barrel staves. The people nail it to a post, carry it to the house of the oldest residents, who set it on fire.
Nobody is sure how this strange ritual started, but the reason is likely to be known. It is celebrated as the second New Year’s Eve, on January 11. The reason for this is the adoption of the Georgian Calendar across Britain, when 11 days simply disappeared. The people of Burghead decided to celebrate the New Year’s Eve all over again after the first celebration, and they believed that a piece of burnt out clavie would bring them good luck.
The Comrie Flambeaux Procession
The Comrie Flambeaux Procession is a torchlight parade held every year on New Year’s Eve. The streets of the whole Perthshire Village of Comrie are covered with the procession of people lightning their way with torches.
The torches are made from young birch trees which are cut down in October. In November, people wrap them in potato sacks and soak them in paraffin until the day of procession. Strong young men light the torches at midnight and carry them through town, followed by pipers. At the end of procession, they throw the torches in the river, and it takes all the evil spirits away. There are many torch marches in Scotland, but this is one of the largest and the most impressive ones.