By RYAN McDOUGALL
Biggar’s annual Hogmanay Bonfire has been a town tradition for the last several hundred years.
Initially, the fires were lit on Hogmanay by the town’s pagan ancestors in order to cleanse the area of evil spirits for the new year.
This tradition carried on year after year consistently. Even during the Second World War the fire was lit on Hogmanay, but on a much smaller scale. Small groups attended the bonfire site and lit candles inside tins, in order to stay hidden from enemy bombers, and simultaneously respect their heritage.
Some have tried to extinguish the well-loved tradition, such as those who have complained about the sheer size of the bonfire, with flames licking the sky at 20-feet upwards. Others have stated that there was no way they would allow “that huge pile of wood” to be lit on Biggar High Street.
So despite the odd naysayer who has tried to dampen the spirits of those who worship and celebrate the bonfire, they have never allowed the tradition to be flushed out.
Today, the fires are still a crucial part of Hogmanay in Biggar. Ann Harley attends every year, and has helped out in the organisation of the festival for as long as she can remember. She told UWS Newsroom about the importance and magnitude of the celebration in the town, and how people from all over the world have commuted to experience the incredible inferno:
“My family attend Biggar bonfire every year and have done since I was in a pram. Every year it gets bigger as we have people coming from New Zealand, Australia, and even Japan.”
Where spirituality was once at the heart of the occasion, Ann pointed out that music and entertainment are now at the forefront: “The locals all attend and there are pipe bands and other musical acts around it. We stand, laugh, talk and dance the night away.”
The family-friendly communion also gives kids the chance to be involved. Ann’s son takes part in lighting the fire each year:
“I walk behind the pipe band with my youngest as he carries a torch along with other kids in a torch parade up the street; then the kids toss their torches into the bonfire. It makes them feel a part of it.”
As a result of the tourism the blaze attracts, Ann explains how local industry flourishes: “The local pubs, restaurants, chip shops and hotels all do well on this night and are all busy.
The fire and entertainment is organised by the local Cornet Club who gather, build and help set light to the fire as well as have a wee drink or two along the way.”
While some might say it is an unusual way to celebrate Hogmanay, the enormous pyre is a burning beacon for the people of Biggar, which represents prosperity, spirituality, tourism, and community for the small town of just over 2,300.
This Hogmanay, the people of the South Lanarkshire town will carry weight in their old saying: “London and Edinburgh are big but Biggar’s bigger.”