Cleansing for the new year

Annual Hogmanay New Year's Eve bonfire will be held at the Brearley House in Lawrence Township

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The annual Hogmanay bonfire, which welcomes in the New Year, is set for New Year’s Eve from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Lawrence Township-owned Brearley House at the end of Meadow Road, off Princeton Pike.

The bonfire, which traces its origins to a Scottish tradition, will be lighted at 5:30 p.m. The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Lawrence Historical Society. Donations are welcome.

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A bagpiper will be on hand to entertain attendees, and food vendors also will be present. The historic Brearley House will be open for tours.

Attendees will be asked to park at the Lenox Corporate Center parking lot on Lenox Drive. They may either take a shuttle bus to the Brearley House or walk to the house along the lighted Lawrence Hopewell Trail.

Visitors are encouraged to write down any bad things that happened in 2023 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 1600’s.

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 became 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 in 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. Bonfires, torch-light processions and fireworks are 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.

For more information about the event, please visit https://thelhs.org/hogmanay-bonfire.

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