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The Burning of the Clavie, Burghead, Elgin
Before the calendar change in the year 1660, Hogmanay was celebrated on the 11th of
January. It is known as Old Yule Night. However in 1752 the old style calendar was dropped in favour of the Continental calendar by the then British Government. People
were forced to loose 11 days in September of that year to bring Britain into line with Europe. This then made New Years Day the 1st of January. People of Britain
were most annoyed at loosing eleven days and many still followed the old calendar and continued to celebrate New Year on the 11th.
The North East of Scotland has always been a fishing region and fishermen and fisher folk are a superstitious lot and this ceremony is one of their fishing superstitions. They do this burning of the Clavie ceremony to ensure a successful fishing for the new year.
I have published a book which tells the story of an Aberdonian military nurse who returns from Afghanistan and encounters The Grey Lady Ghost of the Cambridge Military Hospital. The novel reveals her origins and takes him to a pre-war Duthie Park, modern day Cruden Bay and back to the past to the Battle of Loos in World War One where he witnesses the Gordon Highlanders in action. This is the first in the series of Grey and Scarlet Novels by me, CG Buswell, and each book will feature a well known Aberdeen ghost and Aberdeenshire area as well as modern Scottish Infantry in action. Read the first chapter for free.
Each year the villagers of Burghead, just outside Elgin, celebrate the
traditional Hogmanay date by burning the clavie.
From 6pm - 7.30pm eleven people (The Clavie King and his 10 men) take turns to carry the clavie
through the streets, stopping at houses to present a smouldering ember.
The procession continues to Doorie Hill on the ramparts of the ancient Pictish Fort where it is put down onto a
stone altar and the hillside set alight so that people from the crowd can come and get a flaming ember
to kindle a new fire at home to bring good luck for the New Year.
The eleven men are traditionally fishermen from the village. Each of the Clavie men are descendants of
village folk who have taken part in the ceremony over the years.
The clavie would traditionally have been a herring barrel but these days it is an iron
hooped whisky barrel daubed with creosote. This is filled with wood shavings and tar and then nailed
to a carrying post. The same nail is used each year.
It is considered a bad omen for the village and the fishing industry if the Clavie is dropped. In the olden days one man, the strongest in the village, would carry the burning Clavie. It was quite dangerous because of the burning tar that could trickle down onto the back of the carrier.
The Clavie would also be carried around the boats in the harbour for good luck, but this tradition is no longer performed.
How To Get To Burghead
Take the A96 to Elgin then turn off at the B9013 to Burghead.
Read about the Hogmanay Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony.
Read about Hogmanay Customs.
More Scottish customs and traditions.
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In Search of Ancient Britain DVD
Aboutaberdeen readers may be interested in a DVD called In Search of Ancient Britain by Kenneth Erik Moffatt.
It includes footage and information about the Burning of the Clavie at Burghead and also includes 5 fascinating documentaries exploring living survivals and
customs of Britain's indigenous cultural heritage.
In Search of Ancient Britain has been edited from Kens ever growing Film and Photo Archive, the main feature explores the forgotten Sun God Mithras, and his
impact on the Western World.
The DVD also includes documentaries on The Abbots Bromley Horn
Dance, The Allendale Tar Barrels and Melrose's Masons Walk.
The DVD is 2 hours 10 minutes long and is available priced £12 from