Since my arrival in Edinburgh nearly four months ago, I’ve gotten lost on my first day, explored various facets of the city, and marked the beginning of Christmas by attending Light Night celebrations.
Now, the city has become a familiar place, a second home where I’ve made friends, gotten to know shortcuts through winding streets, and tried some Scottish cuisine in local restaurants. And yet, a big part of living abroad for me is the excitement of new adventures, so I continue seeking out more opportunities to get to know the city better and experience the culture.
Most recently, I took part in a Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh at the beginning of Hogmanay, which is the Scottish name for New Year‘s celebration. While Hogmanay is celebrated in many places and the festivities vary depending on location, Edinburgh’s celebration lasts for 3 days and is one the biggest New Year’s events around the world.
With my compact camera in hand, I joined in the procession to celebrate and capture some of the moments. To mark the start of 2014, I give you 14 reasons that I loved Edinburgh Hogmanay’s Torchlight Procession and why you may want to attend it in the future.
1. An Exciting, Festive Procession
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay began on Dec 30th with a Torchlight Procession through the city centre. All the participants were super excited and thrilled to be there: the crowd began gathering hours before the event, while the Vikings led the procession, screamed loudly, and swayed their torches as they marched.
2. Following the Footsteps of History
Hogmanay is considered to have originated from the Vikings who celebrated Yuletide and the New Year with bonfire ceremonies and pagan ceremonies.
Rampant Scotland shares some in-depth information about the origins of Hogmanay on its website:
The traditional New Year ceremony of yesteryear would involve people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village being hit by sticks. The festivities would also include the lighting of bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down the hill and tossing torches. Animal hide was also wrapped around sticks and ignited which produced a smoke that was believed to be very effective to ward off evil spirits.
3. Traditional Scottish Music
The procession was led by a marching band of bagpipers and drummers. They played energetic marching tunes and spread music across the city.
4. The Jarl Squad Vikings from Shetland
A group of Vikings, specifically the Jarl Squad from Shetland, came to Edinburgh to lead the torch-bearing crowd. They were energetic and passionate, hollering loudly and occasionally scaring children, as they stereotypically do. At the same time, they were friendly and clearly having fun, posing with eager tourists and cracking jokes.
5. A Massive Gathering from Around the World
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay attracts a massive crowd to the city each year. At the 2013/2014 celebration, there were an estimated number of 35,000 people who took part. The event was covered by both local travel bloggers and an international #blogmany team.
6. You Can Join the Procession
When I first heard about the Hogmanay Torchlight Procession, I thought it would be a procession where torch bearers marched on streets, while everyone else stood nearby and simply watched. However, as the marching band and Jarl Squad walked by, everyone started joined in. I followed and soon started walking beside the Vikings, excited to be right in the middle of the action and surrounded by torch bearers.
7. Carry a Torch for Charity
While the event is free and unticketed, people could buy torches for the event. The profit from selling torches went towards two charity groups, Radio Forth cash for Kids and Barnardo’s Scotland. It was a great way to participate in the celebrations while helping out with good causes.
8. Exploring Edinburgh at Night
The Torchlight Procession begun at the George IV Bridge, then continued onto the Mound, down Princes Street, and eventually up Calton Hill. Walking around central Edinburgh at night amidst thousands of people carrying torches, I saw an exciting sight that was very different from anything I’ve seen during the day or on a normal evening out.
9. Photographic Moments
From my arrival at the starting point of the procession, to the final moments of fireworks at Calton Hill, I saw cameras everywhere. It was no surprise, because the procession offered a great photo opportunity for professionals and amateurs alike. Many photographers, with their heavy gear and massive lens, were there to document the event and the crowd, while others took out their point-and-shoot cameras and phones to preserve their great memories of the night.
10. Playing with Fire
I must admit, a big reason that the Torchlight Procession interested me was the chance to be surround by fire. It’s rare that you have the chance to walk around urban streets, lighting torches and waving them in a crowd. As dangerous as that sounds, there were many security personnel around and everyone was cautious while having fun. No fire disaster happened and we all survived to tell the tale.
11. A Different View of Calton Hill
Calton Hill, a must-visit spot for any visitors to Edinburgh, has long been known as the home of iconic monuments, as well as a good spot for views of the Edinburgh skyline. On the night of the torchlight procession, however, it was lit by a sea of torches. The Nelson Monument was lit in blue, and two strands of light intersected above it, forming the Saltire, a symbol that appears on the flag of Scotland.
12. Celebration and Reflection
As thousands of people climbed up Calton Hill and waited for fireworks to begin, friends and families formed small circles to celebrate, and joined the tip of their torches to keep the fire alive. Others stood in quiet reflection, watching the crowd and the city below.
13. Fireworks, Fireworks, and even more Fireworks
Needless to say, fireworks are common at New Year’s Eve events around the world. Fireworks filled the sky above Calton Hill on the evening of the torchlight procession, offering an explosive end to the night’s celebration.
14. Welcoming the New Year
As the last of the fireworks scattered in the night, a gigantic 2014 sign was lit on fire. The crowd started trickling back down Princes Street and carried on celebrating. The torchlight procession marked only the start of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and festive events continued throughout the city until January 1.