Experience Hogmanay

Published on The National Student

The joys of Christmas and the New Year are becoming a distant memory, as work, uni and those resolutions you’ve vowed to keep begin to creep back into life.

Yet still, a sense of the mystical celebrations that welcomed in 2016 are still being replayed and recollected in your daydreams, and conversations continually progress onto your New Year. It’s one of the best celebrations of the entire year, so you better make sure that you have a good story to tell.

Hogmanay is the Scottish way of celebrating the New Year, and it eclipses any attempt the English may try and produce. Sure the fireworks in London are spectacular, and the Toon showcases a brilliant night out, but nothing compares to the magic feeling of the clock changing as you watch Biffy Clyro surround by hundreds of thousands of Scots and see the best fireworks display you’ll see in your life. Hogmanay is an experience, and one everyone should partake in.

Armed with a copy of Robinson Crusoe, my journey up to Edinburgh itself was a spectacle, and began my trip in the best style. Hurtling through the world before dawn, and seeing the sunrise is a wonderful spectacle. Passing through Durham in the dark, the mighty cathedral stands imposing and illuminated, creating scenes reminiscent of a postcard, whilst the River Tyne glimmers with lights, a metropolis spanning as far as the eye can see. Seeing the sunrise eclipse the County Durham countryside silhouettes, and breathe life into North-Eastern cityscapes is a sight of extraordinary beauty.

The sunrise became truly captivating as the train hit the Northumberland coast, one of the most beautiful areas in the world. A sky filled with hues of pale pink and peach was reflected by the wide expanse of sea, lapping against hidden beaches and grass-fringed cliffs all around. Holy Island was a slowly awakening, whilst hidden fishing villages glowed with the lights of hard work in the pale morning light. The journey into Scotland is truly beautiful, causing the excitement to build.

Pulling into the Scottish capital around nine in the morning, I could see that it was going to be busy. People darted about the station frantically, as officials shepherded people calmly and coolly. Already the air was filled with an electricity and a spark that would only strengthen as the day went on. It was in the station I noticed the sheer popularity Hogmanay had to the world. Trains were arriving on an almost minutely basis, heading in from all parts of the UK. But listening to conversations around, accents were much more far-flung. Aussies were out in their droves, clearly regretting their wardrobe choices as the cold bit at them. Chinese tourists posed in front of the majestic architecture boasted by the station. Eastern Europeans practised their English to find out where the tourist sites were hidden. It became apparent that Hogmanay was a truly international experience, yet very uniquely Scottish.

The day was spent exploring Edinburgh, taking in the ancient sites as well as taking thousands of photos. The city’s title as being ‘The Athens of the North’ is both just and accurate, with impressive structures lying all over the city; Calton Hill a high concentration of monuments, as well as outstanding views of the city from all angles. It seemed Hogmanay had brought thousands of people together to experience the beauty, as the hill was heaving with tourists, all looking to grab the best photo of the monuments, as well as creating the perfect profile picture with Dugald Stewart Monument in the backdrop.

As the day drew to a close and the sun went down, the city really livened up. Streets became cordoned off. People escorted out of the main centre. Lights shining on buildings to illuminate the night sky. Officials appearing out of nowhere in droves. Something hidden and secret was happening, and soon we would all find out. It seemed the organisers were containing the mystery, heightening the crowd’s excitement and wonder at what was hidden behind these gates.

After a quick security check, we were in. The self-dubbed ‘arena’ covered most of the city centre, with four large stages erected at crucial points around the capital. Edinburgh’s Christmas Village served as the main bars and stalls for the event, boasting a rides and a carousel bar, with menus consisting of ‘Hot Apple Gin Toddies’ or ‘Cocoa with a Wee Dram’. Uniquely Scottish, warming and tasty. Where else in the world can one sip a ‘Highland Whiskey Cockles Warmer’ whilst stood on a converted carousel in the centre of an ancient city surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people?

At around nine, the festivities truly kicked off. A flurry of fireworks was released from Edinburgh Castle (now dramatically lit in shades of blue), signalling the start to the celebrations. The castle itself stands high and mighty, ruling over the city below it with awe and a gravitas unrivalled. I, along with thousands, took my space by the Waverley Stage and saw White, Slaves and Maximo Park all deliver knock out performances. The crowd were excited and electric, with an atmosphere that rivalled Leeds or Glastonbury. Hogmanay attracted such a diverse, cross-generational crowd, yet each and every person gathered were in high spirits and enjoying the musical delights on offer.

During breaks, most people ascended onto Princes Street, the main shopping street and centre of Hogmanay celebrations. The street filled up to an almost standstill during every hour, as revellers watched to see an ever-increasing fireworks display, counting down each time an hour passed. The gathering is a unique experience, and one that my words will never truly capture. It is both vast, yet intimate. Family-orientated, yet filled with drunken revellers. International, yet truly Scottish. The street became a set of contrasts, a juxtaposition of values all sitting side by side, and it felt totally natural, as if the city was telling you it was all fine and you accepted this sense of comfort.

As the clock struck ten minutes before the start of the New Year, there was a shift in the crowd. The main attractions of the stages began to empty, as everyone flocked to gain the best view of Edinburgh Castle. The sounds of a live Biffy Clyro echoed across Edinburgh, and soon they stopped too. All eyes were fixated upon the imposing, ancient building that would feature as the centre of festivities.

Giant screens suddenly filled with the number 30. It was the thirty second countdown, and everyone joined in unison to countdown towards the dawning of 2016. As the countdown reached 10, a new energy surged through the spectators, as everyone linked arms in a display of affection and community. Strangers huddled in together, counting down and swaying, making friends and joining for this significant moment.

The countdown reached zero, and a deafening roar of “Happy New Year!” sounded out from every corner of the city. Cheers, claps, roars, celebrations, happiness seemed to radiate from everyone and hugs were given left, right and centre. Strangers became comrades as embraces were shared with anyone that lay near to you. It was truly beautiful and warming.

The sounds of friendship were soon eclipsed by the deafening boom of a canon from the castle, before one of the best fireworks displays erupted before our very eyes. It was orchestrated so perfectly and precisely that exclaims of wonder and marvel erupted continually. Each time a slight lull took place, a huge flurry exploded into the night sky. For fifteen minutes Edinburgh stopped still, with all eyes looking upwards to the see the sky glow from red, to blue, to green and gold, shimmering and dazzling the dramatic skyline as they banged and sparkled.

With the fireworks drawing to a close and the audience buzzed with excitement, something very strange happened. A sole, lone, elderly male voice began to softly sing. Within seconds, what seemed like the entirety of the city had taken up his call, joining in with the traditional New Year’s song Auld Lang Syne. Everyone present crossed and linked arms with those next to them, with a chorus of the song echoing far and wide. It was truly magical and unique.

This finished the organised celebrations, and once a successful navigation out of the arena had been achieved, people flocked towards the Royal Mile. Here, an impromptu parade had been established by a group of drunken locals in a very D.I.Y dragon costume. Fuelled by makeshift percussion and cheers, the parade kept the party going as revellers delighted in spontaneous performances and well-wishing for 2016. Extending into the very early hours of the new year, the party began to dwindle and die down as people began to flock for the warmth of their beds.

Edinburgh Hogmanay is truly a unique experience filled with joy, friendship, awe and wonder, and is definitely an event that should feature on every bucket list. Heartwarming scenes are presented alongside heavy, exciting music and fireworks that are beamed worldwide, all nestled inside one of the most beautiful cities in the planet. If you’re unsure as to what to do to welcome in 2017, be sure to book a train and head on up to the Scottish capital.

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