Joe Hendren

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Travels: Edinburgh

Hogmanay - Scottish New Year

Tuesday December 31, 2002

I did not get out of bed until after noon on New Years Eve - lack of light and cold weather makes staying in bed a very easy habit in Edinburgh at this time of year. After I went into town to check my email I picked up a £1 pizza from the cheap frozen foods place on the way home - food is certainly cheaper in Edinburgh than it is in London if you know where to look.

Hogmanay is the Scottish new year, celebrated on the 31st of December every year. While noone knows for sure where the name came from, a few suggestions have been made;

  • from the Gaelic phase oge maidne ("new morning");

  • a Flemish combo of hoog ("high" or "great"), min ("love" or "affection") and dag("day");

  • Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath ("Holy Month");

  • Norman French word hoguinané ("gift at New Year");

  • but the night is best known as 'Snogmanay'!

Around 6pm people in the hostel started gathering in the lounge to prepare their drinks for the Hogmanay Street Party. Some quality assurance was required, in line with best practice. I still had a little of the Bombay Saphire Gin I had bought at Auckland Airport as I ran to catch my plane to LA.

I was very lucky to find some cheap accommodation in Edinburgh over new year - given the demand, some hostels take the opportunity to charge an outrageous £30-40 pounds a night for a dorm room.  I was very happy to arrive at the hostel and find that I could stay a whole week for £45, which was cheaper than I was paying for my accommodation in London.

As I was not sure whether I had accommodation until the last minute, I was not able to buy a Hogmanay Street Party ticket (£15) before they closed.  But all was not lost, as I found out I could still go to the street party if I bought a ticket to the concert in the Gardens (£29). The headline act for the concert was non other than George the Boy himself, and Culture Club! So an evening of very 80s kitch was expected. 

I made my way into town around 9pm along with five Aussie, two Saffas and two French guys from the hostel. Four of us were going to the concert, we arranged to try and meet up with the others later. The concert was staged in a picturesque spot in the Princes St Gardens, with Edinburgh Castle fully lit up above the stage. The audience was in two sections, with those who had paid an extra £5 in the enclosure, with the rest squashed into the surrounding 'Gardens'. The gardens soon become very squashy with people, especially when groups insisted on attempting to move through the crowd. I found I had to stretch to see the stage most of the time.

The opening act of 'The Soul Kings' provided some good fun with some spongy looking affros. The final number of 'Celebration' had most of the crowd singing along and in a good mood. Culture Club came on next. While the sound was ok for a live performance the band did sound lifeless. I thought it was unfortunate that Culture Club did not play a well known song early on in their set, as I thought they lost a lot of the audience after playing five or six obscure songs in a row. To a fan this may not have been a problem. 'Everything I Own' and 'Karma Chamelleon' (strangely their best known song was played as an encore) received a good reception, however the best crowd pleaser appeared to be a cover of Bowie's Starman - which emphasised the impression of a band short of bankable material (and Boy George vocals are not a patch on Bowie on this particular song). I was disappointed not to hear the only culture club song I like, 'The War Song', especially as it would seem to have just as much contempoary relevance now as it did when it was released following Maggie's war in the Fauklands. I left the concert at 20 to 12, just as 'Karma Chamelleon' was starting, as I wanted to be in the street party for the countdown. Unfortunately I had to make my way back to the street party on my own, as the two people I was with changed their minds and wanted to stay at the concert. Ms Dynamite was on next, but I can never get excited at the prospect of rap music.

I arrived on the street on the '10!' - deciphered a strange scottish crowd '8' before joining in the chant on about '5'. Fireworks then rocketed away from the Castle, the elevation of the castle rock giving a more impressive impression of height. The fireworks were extremely pretty, I hope my photos come out! I didn't manage to catch up with my friends as cellphone calls were soon rendered inaudiable. This didn't matter much as the atmosphere was very friendly and soon there were hoards of people to wish happy new year to. Many people told me later they had got themselves lost from people they knew too.

Hogmanay was truely an international new years eve. There were many Australians there, as well as a few Kiwis. Some of the Scots I talked to joked that they felt they were in the minority. I also met people from Britain, Wales, South Africa, Poland, Glazzzgou and Ireland. Overall Hogmanay was a great night out with a great atmosphere.  I would admit to missing my good friends in NZ a little bit!