A Scottish Storyteller

Fire Festivals

Being a storyteller and really into folklore, traditions and all that kind of thing, I do enjoy a good fire festival.

Nothing like celebrating a particular time of year by getting a bit rowdy and setting fire to something. In fact I remember well a conversation with a few friends a couple of years back...

Me: Ah yes, nothing better than a good old fire festival
Friend: Fire festival? Is that a Scottish thing then?
Me: Not at all! It's done all over. I admit I can think of a good few though. There's the Viking one up in the Shetlands - Up Helly Aa. Vikings march through the streets, set fire to a full size Longship and then revelry happens. Ummmm. The Burning of the Clavie at Burghead... Ancient tradition. A New Year thing. Set fire to a big barrel of tar and other burny things. March round the village and then revelry happens. Stonehaven Fireballs - that's Hogmanay - set fire to big balls of burny stuff. March up and down the High Street. Revelry Happens. Beltane in Edinburgh. Which is a bit trendy and modern but revelry happens. People get naked and then burn things.
Friend: So basically it's all about getting drunk and burning something?
Me: Um. Yeah. I guess it is.
Friend: Any Scottish festivals where you don't get drunk and burn things?
Me: Ironically, Burns Night...

(I'd like to point out that indulging in festive spirits and then setting things on fire is NOT a good idea. Always ensure it's some responsible adult that's setting fire to themselves. They can catch up once the burning is over. OK. Lecture over ;)

I can't believe I've not actually blogged about these in the past mind you. I might some time in the future...

I really do enjoy them though! I've been to the Stonehaven Fireballs a couple of times and it really is totally amazing. The health and safety is moving in slowly, but it's still a pretty damn impressive sight. Here's a short clip I took back in 2004/2005 - http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=z3n9xdyFezc

The year after that, The Other Scottish Storyteller and myself went up to see the Burning O The Clavie at Burghead. Also totally amazing - but awfy cauld that year! My piece of Clavie stayed on my fireplace all year round and gave me luck!

Of course I do Wickerman every year at Archaeolink - it's the most exhausting day of the entire year and I'm just about deid after it, but I wouldn't swap it for anything and it's a wonderful way to end the season.

I'd still really like to do Up Helly Aa and Beltane, but that'll have to wait for another year. Likewise the Cheese-Rolling thing, the Burry Man of Queensferry, the Uppies and Doonies thing and the thing a bloke in a pub told me about a race involving two teams to get a wooden leg into one pub or other. I love mad local traditions! :)

Anyway! Tonight I browsed to a news story on The Ottery St Mary Tar Barrels! It's a Bonfire night celebration, but in many other ways seems to be quite like the Clavie. Some day I'd really like to go see this - the atmosphere looks amazing!

Their web page has a really good photos section - and I was impressed to see that they allow women to heft burning barrels of stuff around too (Stoney has female fireball flingers)... but not nearly as impressed as I was when I saw the link to "Children's Barrels" - http://www.otterytarbarrels.co.uk/photographs/2006/children.html - Go those kids! They do it right in Devon, they do. Get them started at an early age.

Anyway, here's some links to the fire festivals mentioned here.



A good page on the Burning O The Clavie: http://www.hogmanay.net/events/burghhead

Edinburgh Beltane Fire Society


2 Responses to “Fire Festivals”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    We just attended Hogmanay and being from the States, although we COMPLETELY enjoyed the Torchlight Procession, we not entirely sure why we were marching and burning. Waht is the history of this tradition?  

  2. # Blogger Poz

    Hi Brenda!
    there are a lot of fire festivals in Scotland, (and I'm sure other cold countries!) during the winter months.

    I believe they mostly go back to the old Pre-Christian festivals which concentrated on firey things, good winter food and generally on having fun - perhaps with a bit of belief thrown in for good measure. This explains the fire!

    Which Hogmanay Celebration did you attend? Hogmanay is just the name for the day, or the night before New Years Day. If you let me know which celebration you attended, I can attempt the history of the marching too!

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