Celebrations in the shadow of the Winter Solstice. They help us abide darkness and emerge from the shortest day of the year so that we may carry ourselves through deepening cold and, oddly enough, lengthening days until spring returns a few months later.
In this context, the measure of a place coming forth from this seasonal inflection might in fact be its celebration of the new year, and not only the energy with which it tackles this task, but also the tools it packs to do so. Edinburgh, and its new year's celebration, Hogmanay? No different.
We’d never previously visited Edinburgh, so Hogmanay, its three-day version of approaching and ringing in the new year, provided us with the backdrop to learn about the city. In the midst of the new year run-up, we got a wee taste of the Scottish sense of tradition and legend dosed with Edinburgh's creative spirit and a dash of optimism that better weather is only just over the horizon.
Join us on a visual tour of our three days of Edinburgh's Hogmanay.
Fire. Warmth. Light. Connection. While fire has the power to destroy, it also warms us and often brings us together, binding us in mysterious ways. The first day of Edinburgh Hogmanay begins with an evening fire procession, led by Shetland's Up Helly Aa' Vikings and carried forward by 40,000 locals and visitors holding flaming torches of burlap and beeswax. It's a hearkening to Scotland’s Viking heritage and pagan celebrations of the thankful passing of the Winter Solstice.
Music, Fireworks and Community
One way to guide through darkness: music.
In Céilidh, Edinburgh's Hogmanay pulls a page out of its go-to social book of Scottish Gaelic gatherings and tradition. And while we had joyful trouble with the Céilidh dance steps called out from stage, others in the crowd clearly knew what they were doing. From there, the music torch was passed to the big stage with the indie band The View and something from the recent past in Simple Minds. All energy, all different. All locally grown.
Fire and lights finish off the year with a fireworks display that was so powerful that its final seconds literally shook those of us in the crowd from the inside. That this all took place in the shadow of Edinburgh's medieval castle almost made it too much.
The best moment of all, bar none: the real welcoming of the year as the crowd locks arms and sings Auld Lang Syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
Unforgettable. Like that song always does, it makes me choke up, especially when the home crowd happens to be singing it. Ah Edinburgh, Robert Burns would be proud. As the last bar echoed, we were greeted with random, heartfelt hugs.
There's a reason traditions like this take hold and never let go.
Culture, Fun and a Little Luck on New Year's Day
Our final day of Hogmanay kicked off with dogs of all sizes and stripes gathered together for games and competitions at the aptly named event referred to as Dogmanay. Bushy-haired huskies dragged their masters on race sleds. One race featured owners leashed to their pets, literally trying to keep up with their hard-charging canine friends. St. Bernards, French Mastiffs, all manner of Terriers, Huskies and Arctic pups were around for some free (two-way) attention.
As the day continued, venues all over Edinburgh were taken over by performances, art installations and lectures. We listened to a presentation from Richard Wiseman of TED talk fame about the science of luck. He offered, often humorously, some level-headed methods to make 2013 a more “lucky” year. Hint: take stock in something good that happens each and every day and you'll be more aware of your good fortune.
The close of Hogmanay events featured a ponderous installment of performance art that echoed Pink Floyd and Cirque de Soleil in turns. In “Big Bang”, colorful, inflatable objects (a lobster, a snail and Saturn to name a few) floated overhead as moody, ambient music (think Enigma) peppered the crowd with meta-bits like “Life eats life” as it traced 13 billion years of evolution.
Our heads were full: full of the past in Edinburgh's history, full of the future in framing thoughts of good “luck.” So we carried ourselves off to a pub with a few old friends. There we met a few new ones, locals in kilts, and shared a couple of pints.
An auspicious beginning to 2013 indeed.
Edinburgh Hogmanay Practical Details
Torchlight Procession: To walk in the torchlight procession is free, but if you want to carry your own torch, you can buy a voucher for about £7. The money goes to a local charity. The starting point for the procession is at the National Museum (Chambers Street) on 30 December and it ends with fireworks up at Calton Hill. This is the official start to Hogmanay. Expect to get wax all over you, so be sure you wear something that cleans easily.
The Keilidh: If you're interested in Scottish music and dancing, this is the place for you as the fun goes all night from 9PM to 1AM on New Year's Eve. Be sure to buy tickets in advance as this year the festival sold out early. Tickets run around £37; this ticket will also let you into the Street Party so you can go back and forth. Location: Mound Precinct (next to the Gardens)
Concert in the Gardens: This is where the headliners play in a smaller concert venue just below the castle. The music kicks off at 9PM and goes to 1AM with a break for fireworks at midnight. Tickets cost £37.50-£42.50 and will also give you access to the Street Party. Location: West Princes Street Gardens
Hogmanay Street Party: Join 80,000 people to dance the night away and welcome in the new year at one of the Hogmanay Street Party's many music stages. There are food carts all along the way, but beware that they all close at 1 AM. Tickets: £15.
Dogmanay: Edinburgh's new year dog festival is located at Holyrood Park from 12:30 to 3PM on January 1. With dog sled races, dog competitions and dogs of all sizes running around, it's a great time for dog lovers.
Note: The information above pertains to the Hogmanay 2013. Be sure to check out the official Edinburgh Hogmanay website for new information each year.