Burning The Clavie in Scotland

Jan 11, 2014 by

Nobody throws better fire festivals than the Scots–first at Hogmanay on January 1st, then at the numerous Viking fire fests, such as Up Helly Aa, that are held throughout Scotland in January and February.   In Burghead, a small fishing town along the Moray Firth in northeast Scotland, residents hold a second New Year’s fire fest on January 11th: The Burning of the Clavie, a unique and spectacular custom that may have its roots in the ancient traditions of the Picts, Celts and Vikings.



Burning the Clavie in Burghead Photo by: © James Killeen

Burning the Clavie in Burghead
Photo by: © James Killeen

In the 18th century, Scotland adopted the Gregorian calendar, taking away fourteen days from the month of September and making January 1, rather than January 11 (the first day of the year under the old Julian system), the official date for all Scottish New Year celebrations. Most Scots were verra displeased with these new-fangled dates, but the good people of Burghead decided to make the best of it by holding TWO New Year’s fire spectacles, one on January 1 and the second, The Burning of the Clavie, on January 11 (unless the 11th falls on Sunday, then the party is on January 10).



Aye, we all know that they burn a Viking longboat at Up Helly Aa, but wha’ the heck is a CLAVIE and how do ye burn the clatty wee thing?!

The “Clavie” (pronounced CLAY-vee) is a half barrel filled with wood shavings and tar, affixed to a large post with a specially forged nail. In the past, a clavie would have been a herring barrel; today, whisky barrels daubed with creosote are used. A group of local fishermen called the Clavie Crew are led by their Clavie King, taking turns carrying the burning Clavie on a set route clockwise round the streets of the old part of the town.

The Clavie from Recite Films on Vimeo.

The final destination of the clavie and crew is Doorie Hill, atop the remnants of an ancient Pictish hill fort. The clavie is placed on a 19th century altar, and fuel is added until the entire hilltop is a blazing bonfire in the darkness. As the fire burns down, the clavie embers roll down the hill, where the crowd eagerly grab pieces for good luck in the coming year. In earlier times, the embers were also thought to be wards against witches and fairies. Leaders of the Presbyterian church condemned the clavie burning as “superstitious, idolatrous and sinfule, an abominable heathenish practice”.

Is Burning the Clavie  a Celtic, a Pictish or a Viking custom, or maybe a little of all of them? The tradition is so old, no one knows for sure, but it has elements from each culture.  As far as locals are concerned, scholars can research the origins all they want—-Burghead will just keep  building and burning their clavie in a fiery celebration of the New Year.



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Dec 29, 2013 by

    Let’s sing, dance and share a wee dram of whisky to toast the New Year ~ Lang May Yer Lum Reek!


In Scotland, the New Year festivities around January 1st are commonly referred to as Hogmanay. The word itself is Scottish for the last day of the year, and Hogmanay celebrations can last all night, through the day on January 1, and even into January 2nd. Customs and traditions vary from town to town in Scotland, but always involve merrymaking and good times, especially in Edinburgh, which holds the largest Hogmanay festivities.

Lang may yer lum reek” is Scottish slang for “long may your chimney smoke“, and is a common salutation used to wish someone health, wealth and prosperity in the New Year.

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A Big Thank You To Atlanta’s King of Kilts

Dec 1, 2013 by

I’m a bit late on this–where does my time go?!– but I’d like to send a HUGE THANK YOU to Brad Beaton, owner of AtlantaKilts.com for all of his help and support as we prepared the new Kilted Up 2014 calendar.  Not only did he pose for our calendar ( June’s handsome piper), he graciously loaned us several beautiful kilts and accessories for models who didn’t own one yet .

Brad is a skilled bagpiper, a member of the North Atlanta Pipes and Drums, and an expert in Scottish Highland dress–he KNOWS tartans!  If you need a kilt for the holiday season, Brad is the man who can get you nattily attired for your event.   He and his expert staff have an extensive selection of traditional tartans–heavenly–for you to choose from, whether you want to purchase or rent, along with all accessories.  If you have your own clan tartan or a unique design, AtlantaKilts.com can weave it for you, and can ship your kilt to any state in the US.

Click over to Brad’s FB page and give him a like–please let him know WESCelt sent you!

FYI, Brad’s kilt in this pic is the lovely (and not often seen) Isle of Skye tartan.

Brad Beaton, AtlantaKilts.com

Brad Beaton, AtlantaKilts.com

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A Poem For Saint Andrew’s Day

Nov 30, 2013 by

November 30 is the feast day of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, a day that has been celebrated since at least the time of King Malcolm III (1034 – 1093). It is the national day of Scotland, a celebration of all things Scottish: history, culture, language, music, dance, food, and more. The day also marks the beginning of the winter festival season in Scotland, which encompasses St Andrew’s Day and Hogmanay (New Year’s), and ends with Burns Night on January 25th.

Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce http://bit.ly/1j5qXvP

The Scots, like all Celts, love a good poem or tale that speaks to the greatness of their country.   What better way to honor Alba than with a heart-felt poem about the beauty and bravery of Scotland?

Dear Auld Scotland
Scotland my native land so fair
Thy hills an’ mountains I adore,
Thy scenery is grand an’ rare,
An’ brings to min’ the days of yore.

To gaze upon the sparkling fountains
An’ see the waters flowing there
Then upon the lofty mountains,
Few kingdoms can with thee compare.

Where is the country you can name,
Can boast of such warriors brave,
Who fought to gain their country fame
From the cradle to the grave.

Such men as Wallace brave an’ true,
An’ Bruce the hero of Bannockburn,
Aye, an’ the brave Black Douglas too,
For these auld Scotland oft did mourn.

Oh, Scotland fair. Land of the free,
Where we’ve got the Thistle so dear,
Likewise the Lily, the Hawthorn Tree,
An’ the sparkling water so clear.

An’ tho’ I yet may be from home,
However far that it may be,
Thro’ all the places that I roam,
Scotland will still be dear to me.

by Charles Nicol, born in Glasgow, 1858.  He began working in a local weaving factory at age 10, but attended night classes to further his education.  Nicol’s poetry focuses on the working poor of Scotland, and the beauty of his homeland.

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Feb 6, 2013 by

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations

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