Comrie Flambeaux brings in the New Year in style
One of Scotland's traditional celebrations of New Year takes place in the village of Comrie, Perthshire where virtually the whole village, with numbers swelled by residents of the surrounding area, assemble in and around the Square in Comrie await the arrival of the New Year, celebrating with an old tradition - the Comrie Flambeax.
The origins of this "Pagan" festival are lost in time but the tradition of the Comrie Flambeaux is that a torch lit procession is led round the village by the Comrie Pipe Band to drive out the evil spirits and to cleanse the village for the year ahead.
The procession includes several floats, often with a humorous theme, which commemorate significant events of the old year.
The torches are 12 foot birch poles which have been soaked for weeks in the River Earn, then wrapped in hessian sacks which are then soaked in flammable liquid. Carrying these is a significant test of fitness for the bearers!
The Square in front of the Royal Hotel is set aside for Comrie Flambeaux dancing and this can be interesting, especially if there is snow and ice on the ground as in 2004!! Dancing styles vary from traditional country dancing to jiving and perhaps even to no style. The age range of the dancers is wide and the whole emphasis is on having fun. The Square and surrounding streets are full of people and it is strictly standing room only. Fans of the architect Charles Rene Macintosh may wish to admire the white harrald building on the left of the Square on the corner of Dunira Street which was designed by him and which shows some typical features of his style. He may not have been particularly happy to know that a bargain store now occupies a large part of this fine building.
The spectacle of this torch lit procession, the parade of floats, and the pipe band itself finding its way through the packed village streets is well worth watching as the villagers and visitors mill about in the streets , greeting old friends, exchanging drinks from the many bottles being carried and generally having a good time.
This Comrie Flambeaux festival celebrating the New Year gradually breaks up as people drift away to their homes, or to "first foot" their friends. The youngsters from the surrounding area, no doubt tired by their exertions,try to hitch a lift home in any passing car, truck or bicycle!
And life returns to normal in the middle of Comrie.