Tag Archives: stonehaven

STONEHAVEN FIREBALL AND HOGMANAY

WHAT: STONEHAVEN FIREBALL AND HOGMANAY
WHERE: HIGH STREET, STONEHAVEN, ABERDEENSHIRE
WHEN: 31ST DECEMBER 2019
COST: FREE

With fire and fireworks on the agenda for this Scottish celebration, it may be easy to think that they have mixed the dates up with bonfire night – this is not the case and this event shares with the rest of the UK the unique way that the town of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire welcomes in the New Year.

Crowds begin to gather, lining the kerbsides of the High Street in preparation for watching the evening’s festivities unfold at around 10pm. Some hardier people brave the cold from 9:30 to get a perfect viewing spot. At 11pm the evening entertainment begins with pipe bands and drummers building up the crowd. Even though the event is free to attend, it is advised to get there early to grab a spot, as once the street has reached full capacity it will be closed off.

Moments before the old Town House bell chimes out at midnight, a lone piper will take his place, before the bustling crowds. As soon as the bells begin to ring, the High Street is lit in the orange glow as though the street is on fire as the fireballs are lit and the parade begins with the piper leading the way playing “Scotland the Brave”.

Whirling balls of flames fill the street as the swingers emerge from every avenue, making their way through the town centre, mesmerising the audience lining the pavements all the way down to the harbour. This event is said to help speed the old year on its way and welcome the new year in an ancient style with a spectacular and flammable performance.

After the parade, the fireballs if still burning are thrown into the harbour and the burnt-out fireballs are then retrieved the next day on New Year’s Day and normally cleaned with the handles saved and used for the following year.

The origin of this event is unknown and there are many theories and ancient tales as to why it all began. Documentary evidence shows its foundations link to a local 19th-century fisherman’s ritual making it around 110 years old. Some say the flames are to welcome back the sun or ward off the evil eye and bring good luck to the many fishing fleets in the town. Whereas, a pre-Christian theory is that the fireballs purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits and the fact that the timing of the event coincides with the Winter Solstice (a pagan festival) supports this theory somewhat.

It also transpires that in the dark ages, a shooting star appeared above what is now Stonehaven and the following year, the nearby farms had bumper crops. The seers of the tribe then attributed this prosperity to the coming of the shooting star and the fireballs event began.

The ancient fireballs ceremony at the Scottish village of Stonehaven is 16 miles south from Aberdeen. It is one of the most unique Hogmanay festivals in Scotland, where on the stroke of midnight the high street is lit up as around 50 to 60 local fireball swingers make their way through the town. If you are staying in the area to get yourself some Scottish hospitality this Hogmanay, get along and see first hand one of the oldest events in the World.

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FLAMING BALLS I HEAR YOU SAY

It is a little-known fact that Christmas was not celebrated in Scotland for around 400 years from the latter end of the 16th Century (after the reign of James 1st England – son of Mary Queen of Scots) right the way through to the middle of the 20th century.

The head of the Church of Scotland regarded the festive celebrations as ‘Popish’ or Catholic in origin and banned any Christmas events in support. He thought that all celebrations were firmly against Christian teachings and as such, if it was not in scripture, it was not down to the people to create their own meanings so there were to be absolutely no celebrations, hymns or carol singing in the Bible. This extreme behaviour did not actually stop the celebrations by those who followed the pagan tradition of using fire to clear out evil spirits.

The Pagan festival of Hogmanay, however, has its roots deep in the history of a wide number of areas around Northern England and Scotland with special pagan festivals being held in Flamborough in North Yorkshire, Biggar in Strathclyde, Allendale in Northumberland and Comrie in Tayside as well as the biggest in the UK in Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire. All the festivals have events which include fires, tar barrel carrying and of course, those flaming balls.

Up in Stonehaven, the procession and celebrations for New Year have garnered interest from around the world and today, the parade brings in visitors of around 10,000 to witness firsthand the spectacle of the swinging fireballs. The balls are wire mesh cages tightly packed with old cloth, newspapers and coal briquets and the cage is then tied with wire before a handle is added to enable it to be swung around the head of the carrier. They are soaked in paraffin to ensure that they stay alight in the bitter winds off the Scottish Harbourside. Crowds gather at 10.30 for the beginning of the parade to take full advantage of the street entertainment which builds up to the Town Hall clock chiming midnight when 40 men and women take to the streets with their flaming balls aloft and they continue to swing them overhead throughout the parade to the waterfront when they are swung (like when they release the hammer in athletics) and released into the harbour. At 12.25 in the morning, once all the cages are extinguished, the fireworks are launched high above the road over the Stonehaven harbour can be seen from miles around.

The event in Allendale is a little different as they carry aloft barrels of Tar (yes, on top of their heads – utter barmpots I know!). This is only carried out by the 45 ‘Hereditary’ Barrel carriers so you have to be related to one of the previous ‘guiser’s’ (from the word disguise).

Whilst the world and its wife agree that ‘fire’ events are Pagan in origin, there are definitely Viking influences as one of the oldest ‘first footing’ rules is that the man who comes to the door has to be tall and dark whereas the majority of the Viking raiders would have been blonde obviously the bringer of troubles.

There is one thing for certain, however, we choose to drive out the bad spirits of the last year in readiness for the good one ahead, they almost all involve fire, fireworks and whisky so long may we continue.

If you are in need of fireworks for a small family celebration or a full display for a New year cocktail party, we have a huge range of beautiful pyrotechnics on offer to bring it in in style.

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