A historic Hogmanay Bonfire tradition that dates back hundreds of years has been saved after a successful donations campaign ensured it can go ahead as planned next week.

The practice of lighting a bonfire on New Year’s Eve in the Lanarkshire town of Biggar goes back to pagan times when the fire was believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

The tradition has continued with barely any interruption – even during the Second World War, when locals burned a candle inside a tin at the bonfire site so as not to attract enemy bombers.

The unique Hogmanay event sees a torch-lit procession, led by Biggar Pipe Band, make its way from the town’s Station Road to a bonfire at the Corn Exchange, before a torch is passed to the town’s oldest resident, who then lights the bonfire to ‘burn out the old and burn in the new’. 

About the tradition, William Paterson’s 1867 book ‘Biggar & The House of Fleming: An Account of the Biggar District, Archaeological, Historical and Biographical’, notes: “From time immemorial a bonfire was wont to blaze on the top of the Cross-knowe on the last night of the year. The custom was called burning the old year out, and most likely had its origin in remote superstitious times.

READ MORE: What does Hogmanay mean and why is it such a big occasion in Scotland?

“Down to the year 1836, the old year had always been burnt out on  December 31. On December 31, the town drummer traversed the streets of Biggar and Westraw, and, by tuck of drum, made the following announcement: " Oho yes ! Oho yes ! Oho yes ! 

“This is to give notice that I have been desired to proclaim, that though London is big, yet Biggar is biggar, and that New Year's day will be held here tomorrow." The change accordingly took place, and has ever since been adhered to.”

The book also noted how “an attempt is now being made to set aside this time-honoured custom, on the ground that it is injurious if not dangerous to the neighbouring buildings”. 

Preparations for this year’s event kicked off on December 2 when youngster Tommy Rae put the first wood down for the fire in memory of his papa Peter Rae, the man known as voice of Biggar Hogmanay who provided the musical entertainment at the event. His presence at the event ran for some 50 years prior to his death in the run up to Christmas last year.

Organisers took to social media earlier this month to confirm that the 2023 bonfire can go ahead and the tradition continues thanks to the “outstanding generosity” from its supporters, who contributed to their crowdfunding campaign, which raised £3,395. 

Changes to the way events are controlled by South Lanarkshire Council mean that costs for insurance, traffic management (road closures) and first aid - totalling over £6,500 - are now all the responsibility of Biggar Community Council. 

As well as the donations, the council’s Bonfire Committee was successful in receiving a grant from the Clyde Windfarm Extension fund to help cover the costs of hosting this year’s event.

In 2021, a campaign was launched to save the event after a dispute over the siting of a gas main led to concerns that officials were considering banning the long-standing tradition altogether.

This despite mitigation methods having been in place for years - such as Scottish Gas Networks (SGN) carrying out a gas leak test the day before the bonfire is lit.

Thankfully, despite the cancellation in 2021 - and the previous year’s cancellation due to the Covid pandemic - the tradition was able to return last year following positive inspections by SGN and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service.

With Biggar's Hogmanay Bonfire confirmed for 2023, organisers are already looking ahead to 2024, with a fresh crowdfunding campaign now underway.

The Bonfire Committee is targeting another £5000 in donations to ensure it has sufficient funds to plan ahead for 2024.

To contribute to Biggar's Hogmanay Bonfire 2024 crowdfunding campaign, click here