Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

January – 2023 (Vol. 46, Number 07)

Dunnottar Castle. Photo: VisitScotland/Luigi Di Pasquale.

The Banner Says…

Lighting up a New Year

As we all look at a New Year upon us with this issue for many (and certainly for those in Scotland) this will be some of the darkest, and coldest, days of the year this month. Of course, our Australian and New Zealand readers will be trying to keep cool as they look to take in the height of summer.

The powerful symbol of fire

Scottish tradition has long incorporated the powerful symbol of fire during the dark winter nights and January is no exception to this. Hogmanay celebrations are still a huge part of Scottish culture and let’s face it the Scots know how to throw a party!

Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve, also known as Oidhche Challainn in Gaelic, is the biggest annual celebration in Scotland. The use of fire on this night is famous the world over today but has been part of Scottish tradition for centuries. People would light fires and candles for luck for the coming year ahead, if you lost your fire it was thought to be bad luck for the household in the coming year.

In many parts of Gaelic speaking Scotland children would often go from house to house on New Year’s Day and burn a sheep candle, which was sheep meat dipped in wax. Each house would offer fire for luck and protection and each member of the household would have the flame around their head, should that flame go out it was likely that person would have bad luck or worse death in the year ahead. While fire is still a focus, some may be surprised to know that not all of Scotland has celebrated the New Year on December 31st.

In Moray, the Burning of the Clavie has its origins in Pagan rituals and in fact acknowledges New Year on January 11th. The Burning of the Clavie is a Pictish celebration of the ancient Scots Hogmanay, which fell on January 11 before the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Britain in the 18th century. The event involves lighting a 100kg barrel of tar which is then carried around the town. The Clavie is then taken up Dorie Hill before being allowed to burn out and tumble down the hill. Locals then gather around the smoking remains as it is supposed to bring good luck for the year ahead. Other parts of Scotland that have had a different New Year include on January 12th on Berneray in the Outer Hebrides and Foula in the Shetland Isles who celebrate on January 13th.

Up Helly Aa

The largest fire festival in Europe happens to also take place this month in Lerwick on Shetland. Up Helly Aa is a fire festival in Shetland where 1,000 torch bearers, led by the Jarl Squad Viking, march through Lerwick and set fire to a Viking replica longship. This year amazingly will be the first that will allow females to take part as torchbearers since this iconic Norse event began in the early 1800s. The celebration of Shetland and Viking culture uses fire as a main focus of the events energy with a torchlight procession marching through the streets, culminating with fires burning throughout the night. The fires of tradition burn throughout winter in Scotland with Up Helly Aas traditionally taking place in various locations from January through to March.

In this issue

As we welcome in the New Year with this issue, we highlight some of the great things you can experience in Scotland in the year ahead. I am looking forward to my first visit to Scotland this month, after a few years absence. We also hear from our friends at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow on just some of the array of events taking place across the piping and drumming world in Scotland and the globe. Whether you play in a band or are just a fan of the sound of Scotland, there will be plenty of opportunities to hear the pipes and drums throughout 2023.

Stonehaven is a small and picturesque town, located just south of Aberdeen, on the Aberdeenshire coast. With a picture postcard harbour and the stunning and dramatic Dunnottar Castle located minutes from the town centre, it is a great spot to enjoy for a
day or longer. Stonehaven is one place I have only managed to visit once and it was for lunch, and it is on my list of not only places to return to, but for a longer period to take in its charm and beauty.

All of Scotland stopped for a moment late November as Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir, who won sixty-one caps for Scotland, passed away at the age of 52. Weir was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December 2016 and used his profile to raise money and highlight the need for better research and care. Though his rugby skills will forever be remembered it will be the determination and humanity he showed Scotland and the world throughout his illness which will define him forever, a statement from his family certainly summed up what the nation thought of Weir when they called him an “inspirational force of nature”.

Robert Burns

On the 25 January people across Scotland and the world will pay tribute to the life and cultural legacy of poet Robert Burns. Born in Ayrshire on January 25, 1759, Robert Burns is Scotland’s national bard and still today is one of Scotland’s most famous Scots. Burns would never have imagined his legacy would be so far reaching and long lasting, nor could he ever have contemplated a fame like he has achieved during his short lifetime, Burns died a poor man at just the age of 37. Perhaps you will attend a Burns Supper this year or simply raise a dram to one of Scotland’s greatest sons.

I hope you not only find a way to enjoy Burns Night, but I wish you and yours a safe, happy and healthy 2023 ahead.

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