The winter solstice on 21st December is the date that Brighton city centre lights up the darkest, shortest day of the year with a unique festival. Burning the clocks, Brighton is a magical procession which wends its way through some of Brighton’s oldest streets and lanes.
In this community event people hold aloft hand-made willow lanterns in a procession that heads down to the sea. The gathering ends on the seafront at Marine Parade for a spectacular finale of the burning the clocks on the beach. Clocks and lanterns and set upon a blazing beach bonfire followed by a burning the clocks firework display.
Burning the Clocks Winter Solstice Festival
Founded in 1994, the winter solstice is a celebration of the turning of the year. The unique community event on the shortest day of the year has become a tradition as part of 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’ starting with the Brighton lantern parade.
The Lantern Procession
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. Every lantern is precious and unique to its owner.
The burning the clocks lanterns have gradually become more elaborate. From the simple lantern kits supplied by Same Sky they’ve evolved into dragons, mythical creatures, aliens and some that could actually be anything but we’re not sure what. Many of the costumes and lanterns include clock faces to represent the passing of time. Tick tock.
Huge Dandelion lanterns, the size of space-hoppers, bob 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… Looking closely the flowers are made from delicate wire and paper and must have taken hours to create. The dancing fuchsia lanterns are beautiful.
The lanterns used to be lit with candles, however, health and safety stepped in a few years ago and now no naked flames can 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.
This is a family event with many children clutching their home-made lanterns and joining in the fun.
Burning of the Clocks
The procession makes its way through Brighton city centre to the seafront where the festivities culminate on Brighton’s famous pebble beach. The finale is a spectacular firework display as the lanterns and giant clock are given up to be burnt on a blazing bonfire. A token to the end of the year. The flames light up the faces of the crowd and the smoky night sky.
Burning of the Clocks is created by Same Sky a Brighton Community Arts charity group. They carry 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 of.
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 and lights up the darkest of winter nights. Most importantly the event brings people together with their local community through the shared experience of art.
Burning of the Clocks is a wonderful, magical way to while away the longest night and to light up the depths of winter.
Burning the Clocks Route and Times
The parade leaves from New Road at 6.30pm and arrives at Madeira Drive at approximately 7.15pm, when lanterns are passed onto the bonfire and the fireshow begins. The event finishes at around 8pm.
The parade makes its way through North Street, Ship Street, East Street, onto the seafront and along to Madeira Drive for the finale. Please do not wait in New Road to watch the parade as this is the assembly zone for 1,500 participants and there is no space for audience.
The fireshow will take place on the beach with viewing from Madeira Drive and the Upper Terrace on Marine Parade. The finale will contain loud music and pyrotechnics.
The best place to watch the parade is Madeira Drive and the Upper Terrace of Marine Parade.
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For more information on how to visit the Burning of the Clocks check out the Same Sky Website.
Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.