Gie Her A Haggis!

Jan 19, 2014 by

January 25th,  the birthday of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns, is known to Scots and those of Scottish heritage as Rabbie Burns Day or Burns Night.  Rab’s life and poetry is celebrated  with great fanfare at both formal and informal gatherings that have a few things in common: drinking fine Scotch whisky, reciting Burn’s poetry,  and honoring (and eating) that great chieftain o’ the puddin-race, the haggis.



Despite what you may have heard, the haggis is not a small animal that runs wild wild in the Scottish Highlands, with legs shorter on one side that enable it to run faster around the mountains.  Cute idea, but purely mischievous Scottish propaganda.  If you want to learn the “history” of this mythic beastie, however, read this article which discusses haggis scottii in detail.

Don’t be deceived by those old crofters’ tales, silly goose–everyone knows that the real national animal of Scotland is the unicorn.

Aye, am yer national animal, lass.

Aye, am yer national animal, lass.


Weel then, whit is a haggis?! Glad you asked!

Haggis is Scotland’s national dish,  a type of sausage (but called a pudding) made of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep or lamb, mixed with oats, suet, spices and herbs, encased in the animal’s stomach lining and then simmered in water for several hours.  Yes, really.

I’ve eaten haggis and find it quite tasty, especially when I’m also having a wee dram or two of single malt whisky.  You can get microwaveable haggis, canned haggis, vegetarian haggis, even curried haggis if you so desire, but it is the mark of a true Scot to make yer own pudding.  Here’s a brief video to show you how haggis is made from blackface sheep innards, the creme de la creme of sheep organs:

I understand that the contents and appearance of haggis may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the national pudding is quite versatile.   If you don’t care to eat this savory Scottish treat, how about throwing it for distance?  Easier than tossing a caber, and a bit safer for Scottish Games rookies:


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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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