BE Together at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay ’19: a welcome handshake across the seas to bring in the New Year

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Festival is on the essential bucket list as compiled by Patricia Shultz in her book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”  Also selected by Discovery Channel as one of the Top 25 World Travel Experiences.

The origin for the word “Hogmanay” is from the early 17th century, perhaps from “hoguinané,” Norman French meaning “last day of the year” or “New Year’s gift”.

Up until 27 years ago, Hogmany celebrations on 31st December in Edinburgh was a small, local celebration for city residents and perhaps a few visitors, which took place around the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile.

Auld Lang Syne sing song at Hogmanay on the High Street, 1964

In 1993, the first organised Hogmanay Party on Princes Street ended with dazzling fireworks at midnight set off from the Castle.  The popularity grew and on 31st December, 1996, a crowd of 400,000 revellers broke the Guinness Book of Records for the largest Street Party in the world.

To ensure safety the following year, Princes Street was closed off for a restricted number of 100,000 ticket holders as part of a four day Festival to celebrate New Year.  Since then, Edinburgh has shown the world how to party as the Home of Hogmanay.

The Winter Festival season begins in mid-November when the city sparkles with Christmas spirit around the Markets, Fairground rides, theatre, music and entertainment for all ages.

Edinburgh’s Winter Festivals welcome visitors from before Christmas to New Year

The Hogmanay Festival has changed over the years, and I do miss the wonderful The Night Afore Fiesta, 30th December, a fabulous, free, family friendly event, (George Street or Royal Mile): giant giraffe puppets, a parade of elephants, Macbeth on stilts, musicians, crazy Spanish hair-dressers. This magical style of entertainment is now incorporated into the Street Party on the 31st.

Hogmanay ‘19 presented a three day programme of exhilarating events to bring people from far and wide across the globe to BE Together to celebrate the start of 2020.

The Festival kicked off on the evening of 30th December for the annual Torchlight procession when 12,000 torch-bearers, accompanied by the skirl of the Pipes and beat of the drums, set off to march from various starting points around the Old Town to Holyrood Park.

Torchlight Procession with pipers and drummers down the Canongate

The pattern of Torches spread out in Holyrood Park displayed an image of two people shaking hands.  Magical.!

Torchbearers create the design of a Handshake

For Clubbers, there was also late night music and dancing at Symphonic Ibiza, with live orchestra and DJ sounds, to get into party mood.

A diverse range of music, whatever your taste, was on offer on Hogmany, 31st December: a classic concert by candelight at St. Giles Cathedral, as well as the rousing Jazz from Ronnie’s Scott’s Big Band featuring a performance by singer Lianne Carrol.

Families with young children were not forgotten either, with a special Bairns Afore show in the late afternoon with music, comedy and fireworks in Princes Street Gardens.

Bairns Afore – the children’s own Firework party

The highlight of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay as always was the Johnnie Walker Street Party when a sell out crowd of 75,000 ticket holders gathered in the pedestrianised area around the city centre.

Picto Facto –  a zany group of Street Entertainers march along Princes Street

With a nod to Rio, it’s Carnival Time with a glittering, glamorous parade of giant puppets, dancers, fire throwers and jugglers to entertain the crowds.

Campagnie Remue Menage – a herd of Festive Reindeer parade up the Mound

PyroCeltica present a fiery, flaming circus performance

Live music stages all around the central party zone featuring a colourful line up of singers and bands including Marc Almond, Idlewild, The Snuts, Rudimental DJ, Arielle Free and the Mac Twins.  If you fancy a Hogmany Highland Fling, you could also book a ticket for the outdoor Ceilidh, traditional Scottish country dances, jigs and reels to keep you warm in the cold night air.

Get your dancing shoes on at The Ceilidh under the Castle

The Concert in the Gardens welcomed an international star, the Grammy and Oscar Award winner, Mark Ronson, who played a rousing round up of hits, with a guest appearance from Daniel Merriweather.  At Midnight, Ronson’s music soundtrack accompanied the brilliant blast of fireworks – an amazing eight minute display – set off from the Castle, which could be seen for miles around.

A majestic display of Fireworks light up the night sky at midnight to welcome 2020.

For those with the stamina, you could dance the night away at the After-Party till the wee sma’ hours of the morning.

The Loony Dook is a well established tradition (running since 1986), on the first of the day of the year, when brave souls take a refreshing (freezing!), dip in the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry.  With a crowd of spectatators watching the action, on 1st January 2019, 1,100 people, many in Fancy Dress, took the plunge – with £1 from the ticket price goes to the RNLI.  Over the Festival, £42,500 was raised to support community, social and health charities.

Loony Dook, South Queensferry – brave swimmers take a chilly dip on 1st January

With so many international visitors travelling to Scotland for New Year, it’s important that the Festival offers a taste of Scottish culture and cuisine. On 1st January, 2016, Scot:Lands was a brilliantly curated tour around city churches and pop up theatres, with performers from across Scotland showcasing poetry, music and film, complemented by a feast of regional food and drink from the Borders to Orkney.

This year, the renowned singer and musician Eddi Reader and her Band gave an early evening concert. The intimate space of the McEwan Hall, with bar drinks on offer created a casual Cabaret ambience.  With entertaining stories along the way, it was a seamless blend of pop songs, folk tunes and bluesy numbers from Elvis to Edith Piaf, from Rabbie Burns to Eddi’s award winning smash hits, “Fairground Attraction” and “Perfect.”  With a foot-tapping, jazzy beat, this was the perfect cool, Celtic heart-warming Gig to kick start 2020.

Eddi Reader & her Band: cool Celtic music and song

An estimated 180,000 visitors attended the Hogmanay Festival travelling to Scotland from 87 countries including Argentina, Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, China, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, USA and Vietnam.  After the midnight moment, revellers were offered a complimentary Johnnie Walker Cocktail.  Slainte Mhath!

Glamorous guests celebrate in style at the Johnny Walker Street Party

Thousands more watched the whole show from across the globe – USA, Italy, Canada, West Africa, Sweden, Australia and UK via the first ever live stream of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay to capture the atmosphere.

 “What a fantastic night! Tonight Edinburgh overwhelmingly celebrated a togetherness of Edinburgh people and visitors, showing to the world the true spirit of Scotland.  We thank the many people who worked together to make tonight the best ever Hogmanay.”   Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam, directors of Underbelly, producers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

A fantastic night for these party goers too!

 I’m an Edinburgh resident and it was my first time at the Street Party. One of the best night’s of my life.  

 Edinburgh you are amazing!! Thanks for a great few days

 Thank you Edinburgh – absolutely amazing

 What an unforgettable experience. Thank you Edinburgh

 Fan bloody tastic.

 Where, when, how can I get tickets for 2020?

 If you fancy joining the Party in December this year, Underbelly has just put a limited number of Street Party tickets for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay ’20 on sale at an early bird rate £20.50 + £1.00 booking fee.

Read all about Edinburgh’s Christmas:

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Festival – Christmas Market, Big Wheel and Fireworks.

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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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