The winter solstice on 21st December is the date that Brighton lights up the shortest, darkest day of the year with its unique ‘Burning of the Clocks’ festival. I’ve always had a hankering to see this lantern and light spectacular and as it was a clear, crisp night last night I dropped by Marine Parade on Brighton’s seafront and joined in the festivities.
Founded in 1994, the celebration is a unique community event to celebrate the festive season and an antidote to the excesses of a commercial Christmas. The winter solstice offers an alternative to Christmas with a theme of time that forms the parade each year. Quite appropriate that the event coincided with the Mayan Prophesy of the end of the world which, fortunately, was a non-event.
The Burning of the Clocks focuses around 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. Up until now the lanterns have been lit with candles, however, this year health and safety stepped in and ordered that no naked flames were to be used. This didn’t affect the beauty of the procession and all was as magical and ethereal as I’d hoped. The music was kind of David Sylvian meets Swiss clock-maker and added to the quirky, ticky and tocky feel of things as we counted away the minutes waiting for the luminous procession to appear.
Huge Dandelion lanterns, the size of space-hoppers, bobbed along high above heads – as children we called them dandelion clocks and would blow away the seed heads; the number of puffs it took told us the time. Up close we saw that these were made from just wire and paper and must have taken hours to create. The dancing fuscia lanterns were beautiful.
This is a family event with many children clutching their home-made lanterns joining in the parade. A drumming band and samba band added to the party feel. The procession makes its way through Brighton city centre to the seafront where the festivities culminate on the famous pebble beach and the lanterns are given up to be burnt on the bonfire as a token to the end of the year. Many of the elaborate costumes and lanterns included a clock face to represent the passing of time. Tick Tock. The finale is a spectacular firework display as the lanterns and giant clock-motive are ignited and the flames light up the faces of the crowd and the smoky night sky. 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 was created by Same Sky a Brighton Community Arts group. Their events take elements of the past, delight in the seasons, celebration of place and home, giving and sharing of thoughts and wishes and put them into a format that can be enjoyed regardless of faith or creed.