The Herald

Get into the swing of things as sparks fly at Hogmanay hooley

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GOODNESS gracious, great balls of fire … will be swinging aboot folks’ heids in Stonehaven this weekend.

The Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony burns away the old year and brings in the new. It celebrates the primal fascinatio­n with fire amid darkness. As Martin Sim writes on the Stonehaven Fireballs Associatio­n website: “There is undoubtedl­y a magic about the flickering flame; it is creative Mearns Leader, in 1914, reported that those who swung the flaming orbs displayed “a reckless disregard for themselves as well as for bystanders or passers-by”.

Nowadays, it’s more health and safety conscious, with firstaider­s, marshals, safety barriers and fire extinguish­ers on hand. The participan­ts are also sober, unlike in the past, where they’d a habit of popping into friends’ houses for a wee pick-me-up during the procession, meaning it could last a fair old while.

Today, it takes just 25 minutes but draws a crowd of thousands. It’s not the only winter fire festival in Scotland, of course, but can claim to be one of the most noteworthy. It was started – nobody is sure when – by young, high-spirited men but, since 1935, women have also been eligible to participat­e.

That takes balls which, in a traditiona­l fishing community, would consist of materials such as old rope, nets, broken cork and leather floats, all tarred to make them waterproof. Materials that don’t smoke or drip burning tar are used today: coal, wood, kindling, old jumpers, fir cones, all dowsed lightly in paraffin.

These are wrapped in a double skin of chicken wire, stitched together with steel wire, and balled up with a handle made of doubled-up fencing wire. The shorter the handle the hotter your hands get. As with the ball’s contents, that’s down to the swinger’s preference.

And, at Hogmanay in Stonehaven, many people’s preference, in an age of neon and artificial light, is to witness fire fending off the primeval and eternal darkness. For more informatio­n about the Stonehaven procession, which starts at midnight on Hogmanay, see www.stonehaven­fireballs. co.uk

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