Kilts, The Keilidh, and Edinburgh Burns – Hogmanay By Night
3… 2… 1….
‘Happy Hogmanay, Happy Hogmanay!’ – The cheers went up, the smiles grew wide, and the thousands of people gathered in Edinburgh all tried to hug each other at once. We sang Auld Lang Syne with enthusiasm, after being dazzled by hundreds of stunning fireworks that blasted the black sky into colour. Edinburgh Castle sat smoking above us, and on the main stage Simple Minds started up their instruments again. I’m not sure what I expected from Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, but it wasn’t this.
The Hogmanay events started almost two full days before the crowning countdown, and the city pulled out all the stops for the influx of visitors. From early on the 30th of December people were enjoying great views from the top of the Edinburgh Wheel and having fun at the Hogmanay Carnival across the bridge. A selection of Scottish films were on show at the Filmhouse cinema and the Cult of Fortuna had been bestowing good fortune on those willing to join in. But it’s only when the skies started to darken that the real atmosphere of Hogmanay arrived. Like the lights dimming in a theatre, a hush fell gently across the city, people nipping indoors for food, warmth and refreshments before the evening got under way.
The Torchlight Procession
A highlight of each year, the Torchlight Procession creates a real buzz among everyone involved. 35,000 people followed 5 Scottish pipe bands and 26 authentic Shetland Vikings through the streets, waving flames and dripping wax along the way. The crowds slowly drifted forward en masse, reminiscent of a scene from The Wicker Man, as they were led up above the city to Calton Hill for Celtic performances, bonfires, and a taster of the fireworks to come.
This year there were so many participants that hundreds couldn’t even cram on to the hill in time. They watched the Son et Lumiere Finale on big screens along the route, still happily waving torches and enjoying the spirit.
31st December 2012
Day 2 of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, and the emphasis is on the big night ahead. But all the city’s usual attractions were also welcoming visitors in their droves. Compared to other city centres, Edinburgh feels compact and easy to manage on foot. Partly because the Old Town is built so tightly and layered on top of itself. Between brunch with the Blogmanay sponsors, a tweetup hosted by Skyscanner, a tour from the Scotch Whisky Experience, and not enough time at the brilliant Camera Obscura, the day flew by. Thankfully, there was still time for one last finishing touch to the Hogmanay experience that made all the difference….
You Cannae Go Oot Wi’oot Pants, You’ll Get Kilt!
For the few of us who were keen to enjoy Hogmanay to it’s fullest, even the prospect of a few hours under-dressed in the cold didn’t dissuade us. We covered ourselves in the most stereotypically Scottish colours available, from head to toe. In these days of easy internet ridicule, wearing something outlandish for a bit of fun can haunt you longer than it reasonably should. But if your outfit has the weight of tradition and historical purpose behind it, well… then all bets are off. It is transformed into an item to appreciate, and wearing it becomes a mark of respect. Other revellers gave us a cheer, several times we were stopped for photo’s, and everyone wanted to know “Are you a true Scotsman tonight?”
As we ploughed through the happy crowds on Princes Street, it was still early in the night. Already it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to see everything Edinburgh had to offer. So all dressed up for Scottish dancing, we headed straight for The Keilidh at the Street Party. In the open air beside the Scottish National Gallery, hundreds of well-wrapped people were busy bobbing up and down, snaking left and right, and spinning each other in circles. Jigging, laughing, and steaming into the cold air, a few people even seemed to know the moves. The rest listened eagerly to the musician with the microphone, and even when all rhythm and order was lost, we made up for it with boisterous do-si-do! The atmosphere was infectious and groups happily mixed to keep the flow of the dance. I tried briefly to capture the moment, but there was a shout of “The man with the camera!” and I got dragged back into the fray.
Welcoming In The New Year
We’d been given fair warning that getting a good spot to watch the fireworks would make or break the night. That surely counts doubly for our tech-laden group of internet addicts, with camera’s and all sorts hanging off every limb! We headed to the Concert in the Gardens still on a high from The Keilidh, holding hands like a string of ants, trying not to lose each other. Listening to Simple Minds play as the strike of midnight loomed, there was tangible excitement in the air. On the slope towards the stage, couples and groups huddled closer together, the countdown began, and faces turned to the sky above Edinburgh Castle.
And then ‘Happy Hogmanay!‘
The fireworks were spectacular and the setting was perfect. The Street Partyers behind us on Princes Street sent up a roar and everyone revelled at the colours and bangs and sparkling lights. They seemed to go on for an age, and though the whooping and fist pumping continued, the atmosphere became peaceful. Friends stole sideways glances to share a grin. Twosome’s turned towards each other for a kiss in the pitter-patter of lights. We all shared a beautiful uplifting moment. Bravo, Edinburgh, and thank you.
Then That Song, Burns, Into The Night
With just enough of a pause for hugging and high 5’s, the musical poetry of Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne chimed in. People linked each other with crossed arms, as is traditional at the end of the song. I wonder if Burns were present, what he would make of the city now? 75,000 people at midnight giving a heartfelt rendition of his work, ‘for old time’s sake’.
So That’s It For Another Year!
We’ll have to wait a whole 12 months before dancing a ceilidh in a Kilt again. Or having our fill of Haggis and folklore. And surely it’s not often you get to burn torches in the company of living Vikings. But wait! There’s good news if you’re yearning for action already! Burns Night, celebrating the most famous contributor to Scotland’s heritage, is exactly one week today, on 25th January, the anniversary of his birth. Burns Night Supper’s happen wherever there may be Scottish heritage or fans of Burns’ work. Make sure to take part if you get the chance, to drink Scotch Whisky, eat tasty Haggis, and hear the poems and songs of Robert Burns recited with good Scottish cheer. Just a few days later, this year on the 29th of January, the Up Helly Aa Vikings have Europe’s largest Fire Festival, far North in the Shetland town of Lerwick. And as for the city of Edinburgh itself… Well it’s just sitting there, right now, waiting for you. With so much to see and do, I’ve already been back to visit once since Hogmanay, and I certainly won’t be waiting a year to return again.
Lang May Yer Lum Reek
Here’s hoping 2013 goes as well as it began and like they used to say in these parts, ‘Long may your chimney smoke‘. That’s ‘wishing you a long and prosperous life’ to modern English speakers. And did I dance the night away as a true Scotsman? The only reason I hesitate to tell you, is because you might find my answer… a little cheeky.
The #blogmanay social media campaign was sponsored by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay with the support of VisitScotland, ETAG, Edinburgh Festivals, Haggis Adventures and Skyscanner. The campaign bloggers were arranged by iambassador, with special thanks to Kash for his role in organising the trip.
Jumping men in Kilts Photo Credit: JD Andrews
All other photographs copyright Peter Parkorr