Monday, January 19, 2015

Hogmanay 2015

The Christmas Market of Edinbrugh, still lit up for the Hogmanay Celebration
Edinburgh has been near the top of my dream traveling list for a while now. So when I found out that I was invited to spend the Christmas holidays with my dear friend Hannah and her family near Londo and the two of us began throwing ideas around for a New Year’s Eve side trip Scotland came up. Even though Hannah was born in England she’s never visited Scotland - or Ireland, much to my dismay, but that’s another issue entirely - and we were both intrigued by the idea of rugged highlands, castles and listening to the lovely Scottish accent, piqued by the sound of bagpipes of course, for 3 days.

This was before we realized how amazing Edinburgh is on New Year’s Eve. The traditional Hogmanay celebration has been revived in the city of year-round festivals in the last decades and we were surprised to find out that today it is one of the Number One ways to spend New Year’s Eve in Europe, or even the world. With ticketed events to traditional dances, pop superstar concerts, fireworks all over the city and even a 8,000 person torch light processional to begin the festivities, the party in Edinburgh is a once-in-a-lifetime one.

And don’t forget: you’re singing Auld Langs Syne in its’ homeland! It still doesn't make sense, but at least you can pretend you get it.

Hannah and I carrying our torches through the city.
The first night that we arrived – after a short walk along the Royal Mile and a trek up the nearby Arthur’s Seat, which requires hiking boots, we learned unfortunately late – was the Torchlight Procession. Taking place on the 30th, this is the official kickoff event of the festival and features 8,000 people carrying real torches through the city for about a mile. First of all, I’m shocked that they still allow 8,000 tourists to walk through the city with live fire in their hands – “This is a grand way to burn down your city,” Hannah’s dad noted at one point – but I have to say, the authenticity really made it a highlight of the trip for all of us. Bagpipes were playing everywhere and from every direction you could see a river of fire all around you.

The tradition of the torchlight procession ties into the old traditions of the solstice and burning away the old year as well as carrying light with you into the New Year. After everyone has made their way through the city center, the group is gathered at Calton Hill, where fireworks begin the real party. 

New Year’s Eve day we visited the Castle. We ate an excellent dinner – in which I almost tried haggis, but backed out, but did eat delicious lamb – then headed to our ceilidh, which was a traditional Scottish dance and music show. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because I really love learning and participating in traditional dances (remember all the circle dances on Lipsi?) and the Scottish waltzes felt just similar enough to the Wild Thyme Dances I used to go to as a child that I felt completely at ease and at home. Of course it was complete chaos, but it was an awful lot of fun.

The Castle on top of the hill, behind a 1700's graveyard.
At Midnight, the whole city lights up again with simultaneous fireworks shows over the Castle and Calton Hill, which we were right in between. As the lights and bombs die down, everyone crosses their arms, grabs someone nearby’s hands and at least mumbles the first line and the tune to Auld Langs Syne.

I’ve done a lot of things to ring in the New Year. At the beginning of 2011, I stood on the side of the Mississippi in New Orleans, watching the New Years Baby get thrown from the roof of Jax Brewery while a jazz band played nearby. At the beginning of 2010, I spent the day in New York City and made a visit to Time’s Square – though I’ll admit we watched the ball drop from my aunt and uncle’s house in Connecticut because we really couldn’t be bothered to stand in the cold for 8 hours. I’ve rung in the New Year most often at a good friend’s house in Clover Valley, surrounded by my dearest family and oldest friends, popping champagne while my dad plays Auld Langs Syne on his guitar and a bonfire burns outside.

There was something really special in Edinburgh, though. It is a beautiful, rugged, historical city with a lot of gritty and interesting history. And there was a joy among the people there I didn’t find much throughout all my travels, a friendliness and frivolity without abrasiveness that I could appreciate. There were bagpipes, men in kilts, real torches (I still can’t get over the fact that they were real!) fireworks and lots of laughter and joy.

It was truly the best way I could have completed the unbelievably adventurous year I've had, and to invite some more into my life in the next!! Cheers to 2015! 

The Royal Mile, leading to the Castle of Edinburgh
The closest we got to the highlights, hiking on Arthur's Chair.
There is a part of me that could feel disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of the highlands or castles and villages dotting the incredibly rugged landscape of Scotland, but I also can’t believe how lucky I was to be a part of this incredible festival and traditions, especially with such a fun group of people. There’s a lot to be said for traveling alone, but in moments like these, it’s good to have a good friend or two to experience them with.

And that just means I'll have to come back to Scotland sooner or later.

Other highlights included: Edinburgh Castle, The National Museum of Scotland (if you love history and artifacts, they do an excellent job with their Scottish history), the Cathedral, Arthur's Seat and a Ghost Tour with Auld Reekie Tours.

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