The Burning of the Clavie
Why 11th January? This is the date of the Burning of the Clavie, a fire festival unique to Burghead, which greets the New Year. The significance of the 11th January dates back to the 1750’s, when the Julian calendar was reformed in Britain. The new Gregorian calendar was introduced. People rioted, demanding back their 11 days – but not in Burghead. Brochers decided to have the best of both worlds, by celebrating New Year twice – on 1st January and the 11th January.
Therefore, every 11th January the flaming Clavie (a barrel full of staves) is carried round the town followed by a large crowd. The final destination of the Clavie is on the Doorie Hill on the ramparts of the ancient fort, where it is firmly wedged and after refuelling is allowed to burn out and fall down the hill when still smouldering embers are eagerly gathered. Possession of a piece of the Clavie is said to bring good luck for the coming year and pieces are sent around the world to exiled ‘Brochers’.
The Burning of the Clavie dates much further back than the 1750s, of course. Like many other fire festivals, its origins are lost in the mists of time.
Up the Clavie, borne on high
Fire under a winter sky
In windy darkness, the red sparks fly.
Fire ahead, folk behind,
Earlier ages spring to mind
Wild voices on a wild wind.
Pict and Viking strive once more
On the rocks and sand of the Moray shore,
Speeding their dead as in days of yore.
For all our science and technical skill,
We watch with hearts that hungry still
Leap with a wild primeval thrill
At the leaping flames on the Doorie Hill.
Little did those Druids know those aeons back in time
That when they lit their holy fire, the conflagration would inspire
The Brochers of today to mime and carry on the glow.
Little do those ‘frame’ folk know who live outside of Moray,
The welcome that the Clavie meets from all who follow through the streets.
And don’t forget those witches hurry from that uncanny glow!
And so I’d like you all to know in Moray and elsewhere
We’ll keep the Clavie burning bright, send witches flying Old Year’s night
As long as we have tar to spare, we’ll make the Doorie glow!
Margaret J. Smith 1957