I hate New Year’s Eve. To me, it’s a non-holiday. A night out where bars have an excuse to overcharge customers, people get excited for a 20-second countdown, and you realize after the clock turns over that life is still the same. New Year’s Eve is just another night. I typically spend the “holiday” with my friends in some foreign country and am home shortly after midnight. I don’t see what the fuss is about.
Yet, despite my dislike for the night, two events have always been on my “must do on New Year’s” list: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and Sydney’s firework festival. To me, these are more than an overhyped night out — they are huge events with music, fireworks, crowds, entertainment, food, and celebration. I’ve listened with awe and wonder to the stories my friends have shared about the events. Each event holds a mythic place in my head.
And, when presented with the opportunity to finally attend Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this year, I took it.*
Hogmanay (a Gaelic word for the last day of the year) is one of the largest New Year’s celebrations in the world, attracting over 75,000 people for the two-day celebration. Though the Scots have been celebrating this day for centuries, the modern iteration with musical acts, a torchlight procession, multiple fireworks displays, and a large street party dates back only to 1992.
The celebration begins on December 30 with a torchlight procession through the city (8,000 people took part this year), led by the Up Helly Aa Vikings from Shetland, that culminates in a large bonfire and fireworks display. Then, on December 31, the streets close to traffic and fill with people, as musicians start performing on multiple stages throughout the city in a lead-up to the massive fireworks that erupt over the castle.
And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a carnival in Edinburgh’s downtown that begins days before the New Year’s festivities and ends days after.
While I could continue to tell tales about the event itself, the whisky I drank, and the music I danced to, pictures (with descriptions) do this festival better justice. You simply need to see it to get an idea of just how large and special of an event this is:
The torchlight procession, led by the Up Helly Aa Vikings. Over 8,000 people with torchlights follow the Vikings through the city in a parade that ends in a bonfire and fireworks on Calton Hill.
Fireworks over Calton Hill after the torchlight procession.
The streets of Edinburgh fill with people braving the cold. Plastic bottles are filled with more than just soda since there’s no glass allowed at the festival.
Yup, lots and lots of people attend this celebration.
Hot Dub Time Machine. He mixed together every #1 hit from the 1950s to today over multiple screens playing throughout the city. I’ve never heard so many people sing along at once.
Lily Allen performing at the end of the festival. She closed out the night. I spent a long time dancing to her and the ABBA cover band, Bjorn Again.
Fireworks over the castle. Starting at 9pm, they have small fireworks shows to mark each hour, which culminate in a grand 20-minute display at midnight. It was one of most impressive fireworks shows I’ve ever seen.
Photos by my friend Laurence of Finding the Universe, whose camera and photography skills are better than mine!
What I loved about this evening was that Hogmanay had character to it. It wasn’t a house party or an overpriced bar. It was a multi-day event with day and nighttime activities. Hogmanay was something special. I felt like I was celebrating a real holiday.
I’ve enjoyed some amazing New Year’s celebrations in the past, but this event is one for the record books. I appreciated the revelry, music, and fireworks, as well as my friends and the camaraderie among strangers, more than any other previous New Year’s party I’ve been to. I would definitely make a return trip.
If you’re looking to do something different for New Year’s Eve, go to Hogmanay. It was everything that I had hoped it would be. Edinburgh is a beautiful and exciting city in its own right, but this festival just adds another layer of fun. Just be sure to bring a heavy coat — it’s cold there in January!
Now, time to check Sydney off my list this year. Who’s in?
Disclosure: Hogmanay organizers invited me to this year’s event. They paid for my flight, accommodation, event ticket, and three meals during the week I was in the city. All hangovers were of my own doing.
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