It’s been about ten years since I first watched Hogmanay on YouTube, and I’ve been dreaming about attending it in person ever since. For New Year’s Eve 2018, I stood beneath Edinburgh castle watching the best fireworks show ever, I realized my dream had come true as tears poured down my face. It wasn’t just about seeing the show in my favorite city in the world, it was about following my dreams in life and making them come true.
For years, I didn’t even get a day off for New Year, let alone have a chance to see any celebrations. YouTube itself was banned at the company I worked at, but it was worth figuring out how to access the site anyway to watch all the New Year’s celebrations around the world. Edinburgh’s show was always my favorite, and I decided I would see it in person someday. While the first three years of my travels saw me in Portland, Seattle, and Thailand for New Year, I finally stayed in Edinburgh for the 2018 New Year’s Eve celebration.
What is Hogmanay in Scotland
Although the origins of Hogmanay are uncertain, the tradition has its roots in Norse and Gaelic antiquity. In Edinburgh, it’s become a major event and even set the world record in 1997 as the largest New Year’s Eve Party ever with over 400,000 in attendance. The numbers have since been limited due to safety concerns, but it’s still one of the best in the world (by far the best in my opinion).
This year, Underbelly took over the management of the Hogmanay festival for a three-year contract, replacing Unique Events which managed the events since their inception in 1993. Underbelly took the celebrations to a whole new level with additional events and a firework display 50% longer than in previous years.
Another tradition that coincides with Hogmanay is first-foot, the practice of being the first to enter your neighbor’s dwelling after midnight to be their first guest of the new year. Underbelly integrated this tradition into their Street Party by designing the entrances as tenement doors.
Along with Hogmanay, I’ve also enjoyed celebrating Beltane and Samhain in Edinburgh over the past three years. Samhain is actually the origin of Halloween, with Beltane its spring counterpart. Scots take their festivals seriously, and I’m looking forward to finding more of them around the country, including the Highland Games.
Leading the Torchlight Procession
The first of the Hogmanay celebrations was the torchlight procession on December 30th. Around 20,000 torchbearers carrying wax-based torches marched down the Royal Mile, past the parliament and Queen’s palace, and into Holyrood Park where they were organized by professional “people movers” to spell out a word chosen by Scottish youths to represent the Year of Young People in Scotland.
I had a press pass from Underbelly which gave me access to the safety lanes and the chance to walk ahead of the procession. While I was in front, I didn’t actually lead the procession myself. That was done by the Vikings who put on the Up Helly Aa festival in the Shetland Islands every January (another festival I desperately want to attend). The Vikings were all decked out in their armor and weapons, the youngest of which was five years old!
The march started at 7 p.m. and made it to the park within 20 minutes. The word that was spelled out was #BRAW, meaning “grand, fine, super or beautiful.” Braw was in answer to the question “What makes you proud to live in Scotland?” and was selected for its positivity and uniqueness to Scotland. I’d never heard of it before but I’ve come to realize it’s a great word to be featured, although I don’t know if it will ever get into my everyday speech.
Street Parties and Concerts Galore
There are actually several parties on New Year’s Eve, depending on your style and how much money you have. The first was Bairns Afore, a family-friendly show in the Princes Street Gardens with tickets starting at just £8.50. They had their own fireworks display at 5:50 p.m. which I recorded from the North Bridge. Did I ever mention I absolutely love fireworks? Just this display was better than some of the displays I’ve seen.
I missed the next show, which my dad would have loved. It was the Candlelit Hogmanay Concert in St. Giles Cathedral. Tickets were only £19.50, featuring Bach and pieces played on the cathedral’s organ.
Then there’s the street party. Starting at 7 p.m. and lasting until 1 a.m., it’s the big one. Tickets for that one were £26. Three band stages were set up, featuring the likes of The Human League who sing Don’t You Want Me. There were a bunch of smaller stages set up too with performances from local artists, fire dancers, acrobats, etc. With my press pass, I was able to run along the safety lanes, seeing the different activities and shows.
At 8:45, I went down to the Ceilidh Under the Castle. A ceilidh is the traditional Scottish and Irish folk music and dancing, and it gets really lively! A huge dance floor was set up beneath the castle in the Princes Street gardens. Three different bands kept the crowd dancing until 1 a.m. I only stayed for a few minutes and didn’t participate in the dancing myself as I had another appointment to make.
An exclusive group of influencers and media outlet photographers was allowed up the Scott Monument at 9:30 to get shots of the Street Party from above. At 9:50, a rappelling show took place off the side of the Mercure Hotel across the street from the monument, followed by a firework show at 10. There were actually three pre-fireworks shows at 9, 10 and 11, not including the Bairns Afore show. From the top of the Scott Monument, I had an amazing view of the festivities and show, despite how cold it was.
Finally, I made my way to the Concert in the Gardens where the headliner bands were performing. I hadn’t heard of Rag’n’Bone Man before Hogmanay, although I love his song Human which has been on the radio a lot recently. The concert stage is set up directly beneath the castle, and thus had the best view of the fireworks.
Rag’n’Bone came on at 11:30. He went through half a dozen songs, including a really nice version of Human, as the clock inexorably came closer to midnight.
And then it hit me. Despite my role with the media pass and how I was technically working, this was one of the greatest moments in my life. This was why I had left the US, my old job, and my old life. I’m now following my dreams and living my life on my terms.
The fireworks started, choreographed to a soundtrack by the Scottish band Niteworks. As I filmed the incredible display, tears poured down my face. Yeah, I really do love fireworks. Many of my friends know how they make me giddy. This was something even more. It was magical, and I couldn’t be happier.
Nine whole minutes they lasted. The finale was easily the wildest fireworks display I’ve ever seen, with the whole sky exploding into a riot of colors.
Auld Lang Syne started after the fireworks, sung by Rag’n’Bone, who then sang the usual version of Human and a couple more songs. I hugged the other travel bloggers I was with and everyone else around me.
The music ended at 12:30 a.m. I made my way back up to the Princes Street Party, surprised to see how quickly it was clearing out. I later learned that it usually clears out before midnight when everyone heads to their flat parties to ring in the New Year with their friends. Based on the feedback I heard from the crowd, this was by far the best Hogmanay. It made me even happier to be part of it.
I went back to the media center, got some photos and videos uploaded with their fantastic internet (since the usual carriers don’t work on the streets with so many tweeting and texting), and then headed home. I didn’t have anyone yet to be their first-foot visitor, but I’m only now setting up Edinburgh as my home base for real, and hopefully that will change next year.
Dunking in the Firth of Forth for Loony Dook
The final event of Hogmanay was Loony Dook on January 1st. I love jumping into freezing cold water, as evidenced by my swimming in the Baltic Sea in Sweden, Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, and the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye. I totally planned to go out to South Queensferry where over 1000 people dressed up or undressed to jump into the water for either charity purposes, or just for fun.
Unfortunately, I managed to sleep through my alarm, and only woke up at 11:30 a.m., long after the festivities had started. I wouldn’t have made it to the water before they were done, so I had to satisfy myself with all the photos my friends were posting on Instagram.
2018 New Year’s Resolutions
So now it’s 2018. I started by looking at the resolutions I made for 2017. I got half of them done, and am still working on the other half. I have 10 countries left to visit in Europe, and I need to buy that gym membership. This leads me to my first and primary resolution of 2018.
I need to become financially stable.
I’m not going to lie. There are some blogs that are absolutely killing it when it comes to raking in the dough. The problem is, I’ve yet to find one that didn’t succeed without some initial investment, if only for that $500 logo and website design.
I want to redesign my blog and get a great logo. I want to start a YouTube channel with great videos and perhaps a podcast too. I’m actually looking at launching two more blogs, one for Edinburgh and another for a different genre altogether. But I need a little wherewithal to accomplish those. Managing three websites costs more for the hosting of everything, not to mention probably needing to hire a VA to help.
I usually capture great photos and videos on my phone, but it’s time to get the Canon 80D I’ve had my eye on and some good Rode mics. And now I need to fix my laptop, which screen I managed to crack on New Year’s Eve. I swear I wasn’t drunk! But I need that 4k screen for my video editing.
So the first step of 2018 is getting stable in Edinburgh, my favorite city in the world. I need to get a job here, and I have an interview with a job agency this week to accomplish just that.
To establish my home base in Edinburgh, I’m moving into my own flat! Well, it’s a room in a rather large flat with 13 other rooms, but it’s near the center of town, rent is cheap and I have a view of the castle. It’s a little odd that I have to pay each time I want to use the electricity for my room, shower or kitchen with coin boxes, but at least it’s home.
It’s certainly nice to have my own bed and a place to store my extra gear. If you’re in town, I’d love to host you…although it’s not the largest room. Someday I hope to get my own flat with an additional room I can rent out on Airbnb, or accommodate all the amazing hosts I’ve had in my travels over the years when they visit Edinburgh.
So yeah, that was my New Year’s celebration in Edinburgh with Hogmanay. A true dream come true. Have you been to Hogmanay? If not, have I tantalized you enough to come to the 2019 party?
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Planning to Visit Scotland?
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
Cover Image: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2018 Midnight Moment © Chris Watt
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