• Mariel Lettier

Hogmanay - The beginning of my end

How I ended up in Edinburgh

A bit over six years ago, I finally determined I was going to travel to the UK -aka, the land of my dreams- even if it meant going at it alone. Luckily, my friend Ana was set to be working as a Spanish teacher in France and we started talking about meeting up whenever she would have a holiday. That’s how she gave me my first destination: I was going to kickstart my trip by spending New Year’s in Edinburgh during the Hogmanay celebrations. I was unaware of its existence before she mentioned it but quickly fell in love with the idea. A torchlight procession, you say? Games and dancing? The city where Harry Potter came to life? An amazing concert to relive The Breakfast Club’s soundtrack? A Christmas market with rides and shops? I was beyond sold. So here are some of the highlights of the first few days of our first adventure together.

How I didn’t catch on fire

I’m sure you weren’t expecting a negative there, but being an extremely clumsy person, the chances of me catching on fire while holding a torch were considerably high. Besides being constantly tripping over my own feet, I usually bump my legs on every available surface and I once opened a gate onto my foot and bent my big toenail backwards. I have also been known to catch my fingers on door hinges and fall back on a chair and requiring a couple of stitches.

Hogmanay, torchlight procession, Viking, Edinburgh
I caught up with one of the Vikings.

But enough about my countless accidents. Every year, on the 30th of December, there is a torchlight procession that sets off the Hogmanay celebrations. The procession takes the crowd from Old Town to Calton Hill, and if you so desire it, you can also buy a torch and take on a more active role. I, of course, did. And once it was lighted, I was excitedly on my way with Ana who filmed me throughout.

The crowd was too large and we didn’t make it to Calton Hill, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless. Bagpipes, Vikings, an amazing speech, and the light of a thousand torchlights marching along, ending with an amazing firework display. These marked my second day in fairytale land. And somehow I managed not to burn myself or anyone else. Though Ana’s coat did take a bit of hot beeswax, I’m afraid.

How we didn’t escape family drama

New Year, Hogmanay, Concert in the Gardens
Meet Rob (in the middle), he was super excited about New Year's.

The very next day, the Hogmanay concert was to take place. We had tickets for the Concert in the Gardens and learned the hard way that once you enter you can no longer go back and see the action in the rest of the stages. Simple Minds was the headliner, and I can’t remember much of the previous acts, but the people around us definitely stuck with me.

New Year, Hogmanay, Concert in the Gardens, banana
Like I've said, it's all about the people.

We had Rob, who was way too excited about the coming year and gave me a free hug. But the real kicker was the family behind Ana. Mom, dad, son, and daughter. Mom and daughter were both loaded -not that dad and son were not at least buzzed. Mom had been waiting 20 years to finally see Simple Minds live and this was a dream come true. However, her daughter was so intoxicated she could barely stand. She actually fell on Ana who had to help her out mainly not to go down with her. A discussion broke out and mom actually started crying over not being able to stay because her kid had had one too many. But here’s the thing about the Scottish (and Irish) when they drink too much: they usually get happy and affectionate as Rob had shown us. The daughter perked up a bit and mom was able to stay for a few songs of Simple Mind’s set. Hers were happy tears now. They all hugged merrily and left together before the show was done, having fulfilled the main goal. So with a history of family drama during the holidays on both sides, we still couldn’t escape it thousands of miles away. That being said, when it’s not your family drama -and it has a sort of happy ending- it can actually be quite entertaining.

How I broke my glasses but didn’t lose my hat

bungee, Edinburgh, Scotland, Hogmanay, New Year's
Those sticks on the right, that's the Bungee Jump.

A lot of activities were planned as part of a treasure hunt on the 1st of January to welcome the new year. We spent the day walking around the town dancing at cèilidhs (a Scottish and Irish party with dancing and folk music) and visiting different locations, including the Christmas market. In the evening, it was finally time to enjoy the carnival rides. The one I was most looking forward to was the Bungee Jump, a less adrenaline-fueled option to the original one, where two people sat and were bounced up and down for a bit.

broken glasses, carnival, bungee
Don't try this at home, kids.

We specifically asked the guy in charge of the ride whether we should take our glasses off. He very confidently assured us that it’d be fine and that, in any case, our hats would keep them in place. However, a few seconds into the bouncing, my gorgeous red glasses flew up into the air as I hopelessly saw them go. I couldn’t really enjoy the rest of the ride and was thankful my mom taught me to always pack a spare pair. “Lost your glasses, love?” was what we heard when getting off the ride. Someone had found them, they fell right next to the ride, and though they were a bit mangled, they mostly -and miraculously- made it out alive. This was the perfect thing to have happened three days into my six-month trip. I must add that we stopped by an optician’s where they were put together and mostly functional with no cost, and most importantly, zero judgment.

I find myself having dumb luck now and then. The glasses weren’t completely lost and my hat wasn’t either the very next day. We got on a bus for our last and rushed trip to the city center and I left it behind only to find it again on our way back to the B&B. Not only had we gotten on the very same bus, but it had not been taken by anyone nor ended up in a lost and found. Maybe it had to do with the “13 - Be Lucky” themed Hogmanay that year.

So, what can you take away from my experience? Definitely visit Scotland and most definitely engage in the Hogmanay celebrations. The torch in the procession is more than worth it. Never go on a bouncy ride wearing your glasses. Unless you have my luck, put your hat away somewhere safe after you take it off in any location other than your home (though I do lose it inside the house now and then). And when visiting somewhere new, never forget to look around, make new friends and enjoy the full experience.

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