Edinburgh's Timeless Hogmanay Celebration

Vikings, kilts and fireworks—oh my!

Hogmanay
No, protestors aren't torching Edinburgh—they're taking part in the Torchlight Procession for Hogmanay, the annual New Year's celebration. Robert Schrader

When you think of exciting New Year's Eve celebrations, there are a few that automatically come to mind: New York City; Sydney; and Rio de Janeiro, to name the most conspicuous. One of the most fascinating ways to ring in the New Year, however, is one you might never have thought of.

Dubbed Hogmanay, which translates approximately to "New Year's Eve" in Gaelic, this traditional, yet modern event is held all over Scotland, but most spectacularly in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. If you're looking for an unforgettable way to welcome 2018—or any other year, for that matter—look no further.

Origins of Hogmanay

Hogmanay began in Scotland in the 8th or 9th century as a Viking tradition—more in a minute on why this is not only important, but appropriate. Although Scots have individually celebrated Hogmanay continuously since then, modern, organized Hogmanay celebrations began only in 1977.

Now, you might be tempted to assume that since 2017's Hogmanay marked the 40th anniversary of the modern celebration, others might pale in comparison, at least until it celebrates its golden jubilee in 2027. In fact, every Hogmanay one ups the previous one in some way, so whether you visit in 2018, 2019 or beyond, you're sure to be blown away!

The Torchlight Procession

Contemporary Hogmanay, to be sure, is a marriage of tradition and modernity—albeit with tradition coming first. It begins on December 30th, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, with a group of bagpipe players, followed by a troupe of vikings with massive torches. They're technically Scottish—they reside in Scotland's Shetland Islands—but they have Scandinavian blood. You know how seafaring people tend to...spread.

Thankfully (or maybe not, depending upon how much you like fire), there won't be any burning effigies put atop bodies of water, and the parade is not intent upon leading its participants victoriously to Valhalla. Although there's certainly a viking inspiration to Hogmanay, this is still Scotland after all, not Sweden.

Anyway, the procession winds through the center of town, resulting in a wave of more than 40,000 people (as of 2015) parading all the way along Princes Street (in Edinburgh's 300-year old "new" town) up to Calton Hill, the so-called National Monument that also happens to be Scotland's answer to the Acropolis, and the reason Edinburgh is sometimes referred to as the "Athens of the North."

Hogmanay Night

December 31, however, is when the party really begins. It's also when the juxtaposition of ancient and modern really starts to manifest itself in a fascinating way. It's a bit different every year, but in general, there are a few things you can almost be certain will occur.

For sure, loud concerts headlined by Scotland's hottest rock stars will take the main stage, and you can also expect a traditional Scottish Ceilidh dance to take place—probably more than one. Majestic Edinburgh Castle, nearly a millennium old and perched atop an extinct volcano nearly a million times older than that, will be lit up in a spectacle of glitzy, glamorous firework.

Irrespective of the year you visit, you'll be treated to ann age-old celebration being enjoyed by Scots of all ages—and arguably some ghosts, too, given Edinburgh's long history—not to mention journalists, celebrities and party people from all over Scotland, and the world.

Hogmanay is nothing if not a celebration of inclusiveness, so no matter which walk of life you come from, you'll be sure to feel like it's your celebration as much as everyone else's. And really, is there a message of renewal more satisfying or universal than that?

The Bottom Line

Hogmanay is not your typical New Year's Eve celebration, nor one you're likely to have ever heard about, certainly if you're not from the Scotland. But it just might be the most unique place to ring in the New Year, even if you aren't brave enough to don a kilt in the middle of the Scottish winter.

And while some Scottish people are known to cynically remark that the difference between summer and winter temperatures in the country is minimal, you should count on being frozen to the bone if you visit during Hogmanay—all the more reason to make sure you've got a flask of strong Scotch whisky nearby!