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Hogmanay New Year’s Eve bonfire returns in person at the historic Brearley House in Lawrence Township

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The annual Hogmanay bonfire at the Lawrence Township-owned Brearley House is making an in-person comeback after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bonfire, which was held virtually in 2020 and 2021, is all set for New Year’s Eve from 6-8 p.m. at the historic home off Meadow Road.

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The event, which is sponsored by the Lawrence Historical Society, is free and open to the public. The historic Brearley House will be open for tours. The bonfire, which traces its origins to a Scottish tradition, will be lighted at 6 p.m.

Visitors will be asked to park offsite at the Vision Management office complex on Lenox Drive. Visitors will turn into the office park at the intersection of Princeton Pike and Lenox Drive at the traffic light – about 100 yards south of Meadow Road – and will follow Lenox Drive to the rear parking lots.

From the Vision Management office park’s parking lot, visitors may walk on a lighted trail to the Brearley House, or ride in a free shuttle bus.

While the fire is burning bright, bagpiper Graham Kronk will play traditional tunes. Visitors are encouraged to write down any bad things that happened in 2022 and toss the list onto the bonfire. Paper and pencils will be available, or bring a list prepared at home.

“Tossing bad things” into the bonfire is a tradition with which the Brearley family may have been familiar. The family, which built the farmhouse, immigrated to Lawrence Township from Yorkshire, England – just across the border from Scotland – in the late 1600s.

The Hogmanay bonfire has been a tradition of the Lawrence Historical Society since 1997. It began as a way to showcase the Brearley House, which was built in 1761, while it was undergoing restoration by Lawrence Township. It proved to be so popular that Hogmanay has become an annual event.

The first bonfire was suggested by Lawrence Historical Society member Joseph Logan, who recalled similar bonfires that took place in his childhood home of Savannah, Ga.

The bonfires were a New Year’s Eve community celebration to mark the end of the holiday season with the burning of the year’s Christmas trees. Lawrence Historical Society members researched bonfires and discovered the customs of Hogmanay, and the tradition of the New Year’s Eve bonfire was born.

No one knows the origin of the name “Hogmanay,” according to www.hogmanay.net. It is the Scottish word for “the last day of the year,” and may have entered the Scots language from the French “hoguinan” – a New Year’s gift; the Gaelic “og maidne” – new morning; or the Anglo-Saxon “haleg monath” – holy month.

The various local traditions found in Scotland that are centered around the fire hark back to the ancient past. In pagan winter celebrations, fire symbolized the newly resurgent sun coming back to the land, and it was believed to ward off evil spirits dwelling in the darkness.

Fire still plays a significant role in Hogmanay celebrations, with bonfires, torchlight processions and fireworks still popular in Scotland.

The most important aspect of any Hogmanay celebration is cleansing for the new year. This includes paying off old debts, washing the house and banishing thoughts of bad happenings from the previous year.

There is no rain date. For more information, visit the Lawrence Historical Society at www.thelhs.org or call 609-213-1430.

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