With freezing temperatures and pouring rains, Scotland might not be most people’s first choice to spend the festive season, but with some of the most riotous New Year’s celebrations in Europe, it’s well worth braving the changeable weather. In the month leading up to Christmas, the country’s major cities host a series of events and activities, with pop-up ice rinks, huge Ferris wheels, carnivals and Christmas markets. Most renowned is Edinburgh’s Winter Wonderland Festival with a vibrant market, Santa grotto and fairground, commencing with ‘Light Night’ in November, when the Ferris wheel starts up and the city’s Christmas lights are switched on.
The epic four-day New Year’s Eve celebrations, known as Hogmany in Scotland, are the culmination of the yuletide festivities and remain one of the world’s most unique ways to see in the New Year. A seemingly never-ending series of parties, street festivals, live music and fireworks, the famous celebration still heeds to a number of traditions that date back to its pagan origins. A fire is traditionally kept burning throughout the four days, to drive away evil spirits and ‘burn out the old year and burn in the new’, and ‘fire parties’ and torchlight processions are still a popular addition to the festivities. The biggest party is in Edinburgh where a torchlight parade sets out from the Edinburgh castle and the Princes Street Gardens host a huge music concert and fireworks display, broadcast live on TV around the UK. Glasgow, Dundee and Inverness also celebrate with colorful fireworks displays and street parties, but even the smallest towns and villages celebrate Hogmany in style, the most unique of which has to be the traditional Fireball Ceremony in Stonehaven, where huge balls of flaming tar are swung in the air to ward off evil spirits. Wherever you are in Scotland, you’ll be certain to find yourself joining in a raucous sing-along of Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burn’s musical version of the ancient poem, likely fueled by a steady flow of Scotch whiskey.