Edinburgh knows how to celebrate New Year, or as it is called here, Hogmanay. For centuries Scotland didn’t really celebrate Christmas, as it was banned and actively discouraged by the church, so they put their energy into the end of year celebrations. They are just fabulous. I had a friend staying over the New Year and we attended the two main events in town.
On December 30th, the Hogmanay kicked off in a spectacular way with the Torchlight Procession of 17.000 torches, thousands more attending the procession overall and 25.000 spectators. Each 4 person group had to have a minimum of one torch, but most we saw had a torch per person. I had booked our tickets, with the two us sharing one torch, well in advance and on the evening we headed to our starting point on the North Bridge soon after six. The procession was to start at seven, so we got our torches and a good spot in the waiting mass of people. Our procession started very soon after seven, with torches being lit first in the distance, creeping ever closer as the ones with a lit torch passing on the flame to several others. There were also official torch lighters as we saw when we began marching, but by then our torch had already been lit from a friendly fellow marcher’s torch.
The evening was clear, if a little windy. We had prepared well for our excursion with layers upon layers, knitted hats, gloves, woollen tights and all. It was very atmospheric marching, two among a huge crowd, down the Royal Mile through the dark Old Town toward our destination. Occasionally we could hear the bag pipers, following us somewhere behind. Everyone was festive, and well behaved, but we did fear for the fluffy pompoms on some ladies knitted hats, what with thousands of torches passing them by so closely. As far as we can tell, no pompoms were harmed in the course of the procession.
Our trail ended in Holyrood Park. The side of Salisbury Crags had messages projected against it, teasing the #Scotword, the word that was selected by a group of Scotland’s youths and would be created from a select group of torchbearers on the foot of the extinct volcano. The word this year was #Braw, which means grand, great, fab in Scottish and it was picked to represent what is best about Scotland. No arguments here!
When the wind really started to pick up and standing among low burning torches started to become perilous from the wind-born embers, we started to head back home. We extinguished our torches in one of the water filled massive containers and dropped the dead torch in the bin next to it. We made our way slowly back up toward Holyrood, then up the Royal Mile, two among many happy spectators and torch bearers. But there were still hundreds of torch bearers marching down toward the park. We were half way up the Royal Mile when the end of the procession finally passed us by, and we estimated that they must have only gotten their start well past 8 pm.
We managed to cross the marchers to the other side of the road at some point, and took a side close (historical narrow street off High Street) that spilled us out near John Lewis to catch our bus back home. But the night had one last treat for us. Just as we emerged from the roofed portion of the close to the narrow alley leading down, we could see almost dead ahead of us the 9 pm fireworks begin. We stood there watching and photographing with everyone else who had taken this short cut. What a great end to the evening!