Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Celebrating the New Year in Aberdeen, Scotland (Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony)

Okay, technically, we celebrated in Stonehaven, but before we get to that, let's start at the beginning. The beginning of this story starts with Philip Fingold, Steve's friend since high school and current medical school student in Poland. Philip came to visit us for a week. His first introduction to Scotland was a typical day here (Thanks to Philip for some of the photos.):

We woke up late, so we took Philip to The Beautiful Mountain for brunch. It's one of the few places that I've found serves breakfast all day and for a decent price.

After brunch we headed home. The weather was not so nice.

The rain was picking up, and we were cold so we stopped at O'Neill's Irish Pub for a pint. Love this place. They have great live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

That night, we decided to ring in the new year in Stonehaven at the Fireball Ceremony. We ate dinner at a little cafe called The Square. They didn't serve alcohol, but we had a second floor view of the stage were Simple Minds played. We left before Simple Minds came on stage, but some of the opening bands were really good, and we had great seats (in the heat!). I really enjoy the uniqueness of this ceremony. If you are in town during the New Year, I recommend that you celebrate Hogmanay in Stonehaven at least once. First Aberdeen runs a coach service to Stonehaven for £20 each that will take you to Stonehaven and pick you up at 1:15AM to take you home. Enjoy the pictures!

 Tanya and I felt that it was necessary to buy shiny, blinking things in the shape of a mohawk. It couldn't be helped.

When we found a spot, we discovered that we were lucky enough to have stopped right in front of the drums! So fun! (Click below to listen and watch them dance.)

Philip enjoying the show
Steve and Rodrigo
Saad and Tanya

Steve and I

A short clip of them swinging the fireballs (below)!

We all had a really good time!

Just for Fun (okay this one is also education):
A little information from http://www.stonehavenfireballs.co.uk/about:

"...From current research the ceremony would seem to go back from a hundred to a hundred and fifty years, but it could easily be much older. At the moment there is no written documentation of the event before 1908. The only source of recorded information is the local newspaper of the time - The Stonehaven Journal.
               The ceremony today lasts only around twenty to thirty minutes but in the past it could last an hour or more. Then, some of the swingers would swing their fireball for a few yards and then stop outside a house that was occupied by someone that they knew. They would drop their fireball at the kerbside and pop in for their ‘New Year’! After a while they would come out, pick up their ‘ball’ and swing on down to the next house, and so on. As quite a number of the swingers would have had many relatives and friends staying in area it could take some time to get from one end of the street to the other!
In the early years, according to the newspaper reports, it would seem that it was mainly the male youths of the older ‘fisher’ town that were involved in the custom but once into the sixties the newspaper reports are of older men and women being involved as well.
           The ‘balls’ had to be made of material that would smoulder and stay ‘alive’ whilst left unattended. In all fishing communities there was always plenty of old rope, nets, broken cork and leather floats etc. which would have been ‘tarred’ at some time to make them waterproof and which would have been ideal to use in the construction of the ‘balls’. Old and broken material like that could have been seen by some as ‘unlucky’ and as all fishing communities were very superstitious, burning it would have been a good way of getting rid of it and of destroying the bad luck. Now we use ‘clean’ material which burns without smoking or dripping burning tar or oil.
In August 1848 as a result of an unexpected storm 8 fishing boats were lost with a total of 19 men being drowned. That number of men and boats from a small fishing community would have had a massive effect on the whole town as well as the families themselves. Tragedies like that were sadly not that uncommon, so anything that would help to balance the odds in your favour was eagerly seized on. It is easy to see how superstition, good luck charms and customs were felt by some to be a means of helping to swing that balance. The use of the fireball ceremony as a creator of good luck or eliminator of bad luck is understandable.
Even if we only count from 1908 onwards, the fact that this ceremony has been carried out every Hogmanay possible since then (excepting 1917 to ‘18 and 1940 to ‘45) makes it an event of note in Scotland and the UK.  It has never been cancelled.
For many years the tradition just ‘happened’. Everyone knew what to do and what went on. It was always loud and lively. More for the young people to enjoy.  Only those who wanted to be involved would come down to see it happen. It was seen as an ‘old town’ preserve –you had to be born in the old town to take part. Gradually that has changed. Now the requirement is that you stay in the area and have the interests of the ceremony at heart. In the late sixties the ceremony seemed to go into decline, with fewer and fewer swingers taking part. However, the custom was rescued before it died by a few local enthusiasts who encouraged anyone to take part, locally born or not. As long as they wanted to keep it alive then they were welcome. The enthusiasm for the event that came from these people has helped to enhance the tradition and ensure that it will keep going for many generations to come.
Sadly none of the early history of the event was written down or the names of the swingers before 1960.
If you get the chance to watch the Fireball ceremony then we hope that you enjoy it. We (the swingers) certainly do! The buzz that most of us feel when we walk down the High Street for the first time after the bell has rung is amazing! There is no need for any additional stimulants! (We will all be sober – it’s a rule we stick to!) There are no ghosts in front or behind us (that we are aware of!) but we feel the history that is there when we walk the path that others have walked every Hogmanay.
                                                                                                                            Martin Sim. 2013"

1 comment:

  1. While I think you could definitely be a mohawk head lady, I do want to ask you to make sure the weather is warm when we come so that I don't have to take photos with that thing on your head when I come. LOL.. Seriously... thanks for being so much fun... that certainly can't be helped!!!


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