An ancient tradition carries on
Hundreds will gather in and around Melville Square in Comrie at Hogmanay to await the bells and the Comrie flambeaux procession. The flambeaux are overseen by the Comrie Flambeaux Committee who begin preparing them well in advance of December 31.
Locally-sourced birch poles, selected for their straightness, are wrapped in layer upon layer of hessian sacks, tied firmly in place with wire. These are then soaked in flammable liquid until December 31. Carrying a flambeaux is a significant test of fitness for the bearers, who usually hand down the baton through the generations.
The tradition is so ancient, no-one can pinpoint when it started.
Folklorist and authority on Scottish culture Margaret Bennett told the Herald: “The flambeaux is one of several Scottish fire festivals, which are always at the darkest time of the year. I think that it’s a parallel to the ancient festivals - I tend to resist the word Pagan - it’s more or less pre-Christian. The policy of the early church was to invest a new significance to old and ancient festivals because people get upset
when you remove their festivals. And one of the things they did as a ritual at the darkest time of the year was to welcome the returning light
lighting a huge fire, and from that large community fire they would take burning torches and walk the boundaries of their community, symbolising purification.”
Margaret can’t pin down when the flambeaux would have started but says such festivals can date back to the fourth century. Celtic festivals also went along similar lines - they were a time for a fresh start and purification. Margaret added: “Walking the boundaries of the community in this way with fire is embedded in tradition over centuries.”
“Flambeaux also reflect the idea, which people took quite seriously, of thinking ahead to next year and doing the best with it, so they would prepare for it. It wasn’t something you just did that night and stuck up a huge burning log. Preparation is very specific to the flambeaux.”
And indeed the Comrie flambeaux are made in November - nowadays on the Sunday following Remembrance Day.
Margaret says their is also mention of the Comrie flambeaux in a Scots Magazine (the oldest magazine in the world still in publication) of the 1770s, which describes the ceremony carried out in the Shaky Village. And this was around the time that Comrie was developing into a village, rather than just a meeting place surrounded by small settlements. As to the name “flambeaux”, this more than likely comes into the spectrum of borrowed words from other languages.
Teamwork The 2017 Flambeaux tyers
Final check David Robertson
Chairman Hamish Reid
Preparation James Stewart
Wind up The sacks are kept firmly in place with wire
jobMuir Hunter and Craig Gillies
Next generation Willie Sinclair with George Bennie and Kieran Ferguson
Flammable Kyle Fenwick and George Bennie fill the barrells