The winter solstice on 21st December is the date that Brighton lights up the shortest, darkest day of the year with the unique ‘Burning of the Clocks’ festival. A magical procession of people holding hand-made lanterns and lights wend their way through some of Brighton’s oldest streets and lanes. The gathering ends on the seafront at Marine Parade for a spectacular finale of the burning of the clocks in a blazing beach bonfire followed by a firework display.
Winter Solstice Festival
Founded in 1994, the celebration is a unique community event and has become a tradition to celebrate the festive season. It’s also ‘an antidote to the excesses of a commercial Christmas’. The winter solstice offers an alternative to Christmas and centres around the theme of ‘time’.
The Burning of the Clocks starts with a procession of glowing lanterns made from willow canes, traditionally called withies, and white tissue paper. As the lanterns are created their makers build into them their time, wishes, hopes and fears and every lantern is precious and unique to it’s maker.
Same Sky is a community arts charity and carries out free lantern-making workshops for local community groups. Some are homeless young people, single fathers, and young carers who are encouraged to make something they can be proud. The event brings people together with their local community through the shared experience of art.
Lanterns and Light
The lanterns used to be lit with candles, however, health and safety stepped in a few years ago and ordered that no naked flames were to be used. This hasn’t affected the beauty of the procession. It’s all quite magical and ethereal. The music is kind of David Sylvian meets Swiss clock-maker and adds to the quirky, ticky-tocky feel of the occasion.
Huge Dandelion lanterns, the size of space-hoppers, bobbed along high above the heads of the crowd. As children we called them dandelion clocks and would blow away the seed heads; one o’clock, two o’clock… Up close we could see that these flowers were made from delicate wire and paper and must have taken hours to create. The dancing fuchsia lanterns were beautiful.
Burning of the Clocks
Many of the elaborate costumes and lanterns include clock faces to represent the passing of time. Tick Tock. The finale is a spectacular firework display as the lanterns and giant clock are ignited. The flames light up the faces of the crowd and the smoky night sky.
This is a family event with many children clutching their home-made lanterns joining in. Drumming and samba bands add to the party feel. The procession makes its way through Brighton city centre to the seafront where the festivities culminate on Brighton’s famous pebble beach. The lanterns are given up to be burnt on a blazing bonfire as a token to the end of the year.
Burning of the Clocks is a wonderful, magical way to while away the longest night and to light up the depths of winter.
Burning of the Clocks is created by Same Sky a Brighton Community Arts group. Their events take elements of the past, the seasons and celebrate place and home. The giving and sharing of thoughts and wishes are put into a format that can be enjoyed regardless of faith or creed. The event turns the spotlight away from the more commercial side of Christmas, lights up the darkest of winter nights and brings the local community together.
For more information on how to visit the Burning of the Clocks check out the Same Sky Website.