In December 2010, I bought a heavy winter coat, gathered some friends, and took a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland to celebrate Hogmanay. You see, in 2011, I was turning 40 and I wanted to start my year with a bang in my favorite city in the world.
Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year. In Edinburgh, it’s a grand 3-day celebration. Actually, it’s a lot longer than that, with fair rides and colored lights, concerts and stalls selling knickknacks and food! But the official opening of the Hogmanay Festival is on December 30th.
When I arrived in Edinburgh, I found cold, drizzly and cloudy weather, but it wasn’t nearly as chilly as I’d expected. Yes, I could see my breath as I talked, but it didn’t matter. My heart spoke then and said, “Welcome home.”
The first major event of Hogmanay was the Torchlight Procession on December 30th. After dinner, it was time to line up on the Royal Mile. We went a bit early so we could buy torches. This ceremony is actually a version of the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival usually associated with the Shetlands. It’s a good thing we went early because they had upwards of 25,000 people there and we were fairly close to the front. They lit torches toward the front and then those people turned around and lit the torches of the people behind them and so on and so on. It was pretty neat to see the fire coming back toward us like a wave!
Once most people had their torches lit, the line took off down the Mound, along Prince’s Street and up to Calton Hill. Music played and supposedly there were bagpipes toward the beginning of the line, but I didn’t hear any during most of the walk. Several times we stopped for pictures or to get out of the way of other people’s pictures, and glanced back at the wave of fire behind us. It was absolutely amazing to see!
When we reached Calton Hill and they stuffed us in like sardines, it was time for the burning of the “Viking” boat. Again, they played music while the flames licked the night sky. And then we had fireworks. It was a perfect evening!
The next day, December 31st, my friends and I wandered around the Winter Wonderland. We went on the Ferris wheel, stopped at the stalls selling clothes and trinkets, then stopped so I could try mulled wine. I liked it! After another fabulous dinner and a champagne toast in our hotel rooms, we dressed for the cold and headed out to the Garden Party. We quickly found a spot on a hill, one on the outskirts of the crowd pushing toward the stage of the concert we’d hear. Bands played for the remainder of the night. People came and went. It wasn’t as cold or as crowded as I’d feared. I’d been worried that we would get a spot, get squished and not be able to move. But we had plenty of room to sit, stand, dance and take pictures! We could see the lights in the trees and on the stage.
Time went fast. Just before midnight, one of our party went for a bathroom run and we didn’t see her again until a good fifteen minutes into the new year. She claims she got lost on the way back, but maybe she found a handsome Scotsman to kiss! As with most places, there was a countdown to 2011 and Auld Lang Syne played. For that, groups of people gathered together and held hands during the singing. It truly was the perfect way to begin the year I turned 40. I had so much fun that my friends and I agreed to do it again when the next person hits that magical number!
For more information and pictures of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, visit www.edinburghshogmanay.com.