Crossing Dalginross Bridge
Hogmanay - Seekin' Their Cakes In Fife
Burning The Clavie At Burghead
Hogmanay ( New Years Eve ) is an old and much celebrated occasion throughout
. The word itself however is something of a mystery . Amongst the
theories regarding its origins is that it is from the word “ Hagmena “ – a
corrupted Greek word meaning “ holy
month “ . Another “ learned “ school of thought
implies that the word is of French origin and was
brought over with the Normans in 1066 !This latter line is based on the
old Norman word “ Haguillennes “ . To add to the general confusion a third source promotes the
theory that the Hogmanay source lies in the
ancient Norse festivals that was celebrated at Yule time . The
night before it started was called “ hoggin – nat “ or “ hogenat “ which meant the slaughter night when the
cattle were killed to allow the prepararation of
food on the great day . Confused
? – well join the club ! Scotland
There is no doubt that the Scottish Hogmanay and Neerday ( New Years Day) have changed radically over the last few decades . By tradition the “ first foot “ after mid night determined the luck of the household in the ensuing year . It was regarded as bad luck if the first person to cross the thresh hold after “ the bells “ was a woman or a fair haired person . To quote an old Scots rhyme :
If the first foot is a woman
And that woman
she be fair
In all the days that follow
You will have a care
Luckiest first foot was a tall dark haired man who would enter the house without speaking and poke the fire and add a lump of coal thus bring good fortune for the New Year . The origins of the Dark haired first foot as opposed to a fair one is said to date back to the period of the Norse attacks on the coast of
Despite the intrusion of TV and its pre packed entertainment – many customs pertaining to New Year celebrations can be found throughout
the North of England . In the Scotland East Neuk of Fife many of the towns and villages celebrated
the New Year in a particular fashion
up until the start of World War 2 . Mumming or Morality
plays were acted out by the children who went from door to door “ to seek
their cakes “ They either carried baskets or bags or else dressed up in sheets
which were folded at the front to form a
“My feet’s cauld , my shoon’s thin
Gie’s my cakes and let me rin”
Galloway in the south west a
tradition prevailed that water drawn a
mid night before New Year had luck bringing properties particularly in allowing
a young lass to find a suitable beau ! In Fordyce in there was
great stone known as the “ mortar stone “ . It would
be laid at the door of local lass
selected by the community and kept there
for a full year during which time she would in probability get m arried
to her choice . Stonehaven south
of Elgin has an annual fire ball swinging procession akin
to our Comrie Flambeaux . Biggar in South Lanarkshire has a New Year
bonfire around which the citizens dance
and parade A similar custom exists 400 miles north in Wick in Caithness whilst a Burghead on the Moray coast holds the burning of the Clavie . The Clavie is a a
long handle to which a wooden half barrel is attached and filled with tar and tarred wood , set alight and marched around the old
town . Aberdeen
What then of our own Comrie Flambeaux ? Below is a description of what happens in the early 21st century taken from the “ web “
One of Scotland's traditional celebrations of New Year takes place in the village of Comrie, Perthshire where virtually the whole village, with numbers swelled by residents of the surrounding area, assemble in and around the Square in Comrie await the arrival of the New Year , celebrating with an old tradition - the Comrie Flambeaux. The origins of this "Pagan" festival are lost in time but the tradition of the Comrie Flambeaux is that a torch lit procession is led round the village by the Comrie Pipe Band to drive out the evil spirits and to cleanse the village for the year ahead.. The procession includes several floats , often with a humorous theme, which commemorate significant events of the old year.
The torches are 12 foot birch poles which have been soaked for weeks in the River Earn, then wrapped in hessian sacks which are then soaked in flammable liquid. Carrying these is a significant test of fitness for the bearers!
The Square in front of the Royal Hotel is set aside for Comrie Flambeaux dancing and this can be interesting, especially if there is snow and ice on the ground as in 2004!! Dancing styles vary from traditional country dancing to jiving and perhaps even to no style. The age range of the dancers is wide and the whole emphasis is on having fun. The Square and surrounding streets are full of people and it is strictly standing room only. Fans of the architect Charles Rene Macintosh may wish to admire the white harrald building on the left of the Square on the corner of Dunira Street which was designed by him and which shows some typical features of his style. He may not have been particularly happy to know that a bargain store now occupies a large part of this fine building.
The spectacle of this torch lit procession, the parade of floats, and the pipe band itself finding its way through the packed village streets is well worth watching as the villagers and visitors mill about in the streets , greeting old friends, exchanging drinks from the many bottles being carried and generally having a good time.
The following account of the Flambeaux was written in the 1930s :
In Comrie in Perthshire , the young men and boys of the town dress up in weird and wonderful costumes , some with horned head dresses , and parade at mid night through the town carrying burning torches with which a street bonfire is finally lighted . Shopkeepers and house wives lay in a good stock of cakes and fruit and , even if the original Hogmanay cake , a kind of sweet bread , is not universally baked ready for the guisers, still there are few houses which fail to respond to the children’s demands.
Get up , good wife , and shake your feathers
Dinna think that we are beggars
For we are bairns come out to play
Get up and gie’s our Hogmanay
The Flambeaux alike Hogmanay itself has a degree of uncertainty about its origins .Peter McNaughton in his fascinating web page "Highland Strathearn – Papers in a Trunk "
http://www.highlandstrathearn.com posts this interesting piece :
http://www.highlandstrathearn.com posts this interesting piece :
The origins of this mysterious celebration lie in the misty swirls of time. It is the cause of much speculation. As a mid-winter festival many have suggested that the Flambeaux celebrated customs from the time of the Druids. They suggest that the Druids held it to celebrate the changing of the seasons and to drive away evil spirits. To accomplish this rather Herculean task they bound and swathed the tops of birch poles in hessian or canvas, covered them in pitch, and then set them ablaze carrying them through the village preceded by a pipe band. This sounds rather fanciful. Others favour the notion that after the Vikings visited our community principally in search of plunder and sack it was instituted for celebratory purposes. Questions have been raised about this philosophy as well .However, the reality is that there was no mention of Comrie as a village prior to 1750 although it was known as a meeting place since around the twelfth century.There had been no mention in the records before 1750 of a fire festival called the Flambeaux in the village. It was during the period 1750 to 1820 that Comrie grew into a village.
Peter’s analysis is sound but it is evident from the abundance of similar customs throughout Scotland that our Strathearn New Year Festival – the Comrie Flambeaux – has a truly ancient origin albeit that the locus may well have been somewhat different prior to 1750 !
A happy New Year to you all when the bells chime and the last flaming torch is cast into the Earn!!