University of Glasgow in the snow

‘Tis the season to be merry….in Scotland with a wee dram!

‘Hogmanay’ is the traditional word for New Year celebrations in Scotland and the country’s cities, towns and villages provide world-famous revels every year. Blue Badge Guide David Tucker gives us some tips on how to celebrate Hogmanay and the festive season the Scottish way.

“A first this year for Edinburgh’s festive season will be the Castle of Light show when the famous Edinburgh Castle, the city’s number one attraction, will be lit up at night by ‘stunning visuals and state of the art lighting installations’. (The show will be on from late November to 22 December on selected nights.)

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

On Hogmanay Edinburgh will welcome tens of thousands of visitors to its Johnnie Walker Street Party featuring music by Scottish superstar DJ Mark Ronson plus The Mac Twins of Love Island fame. Before that, the city’s Princes Street Gardens will be packed as usual with Christmas market stalls, rides and entertainers.

Not to be outdone by its rival city, Glasgow boasts the fabulously lit George Square with its own street markets and live concerts. And, of course, Glasgow’s theatres will offer the rudest of pantomime jokes! Not to mention ‘lock-ins’ at Glasgow’s many historic pubs.

A wee dram of whiskey

A wee dram of whiskey

“Chestnuts roasting….”
A calmer festive experience is imagined by many visitors to Scotland and this is another national speciality. The country’s 100-plus Five Star hotels all offer plenty of tempting seasonal packages around the festive period. The choice ranges from intimate country house hotels like the Michelin-starred Peat Inn in Fife or Cromlix House (owned by tennis star, Andy Murray) through to the famous Gleneagles Hotel with its numerous outdoor pursuits on site.

After a five-course meal or even a game of golf, there is nothing more quintessentially Scottish than relaxing in front of a real log fire with a ‘wee dram’ of Scotland’s finest export, a well-matured single malt whisky!

Inverness row of buildings along a stretch of water


Highland high-jinks
For visitors who make it beyond the big cities in the south, the Highland capital, Inverness – easily accessible by air, rail or road – offers its own special festive entertainments. For the New Year, the city boasts ‘Scotland’s biggest free Hogmanay party’ in the Northern Meeting Park and the town centre is packed, too, at midnight.

Before that, Christmas is brought in by ‘festive frolics at the Winter Wonderland’ in Whin Park where families can ‘meet Santa and his reindeers, walk among beautifully lit trees and enjoy the thrills of fairground rides’. Inverness also has lots of last-minute shopping opportunities for late gifts, from modern Eastgate centre to the quaint and indoor (!) Victorian Market.

VisitScotland, the national tourist board, has pages of enticing festivities for the various Scottish destinations.

Ben Nevis, Scotland

Ben Nevis, Scotland

“Let it snow….”
For those with activity in mind, the Highlands of Scotland boast five ski resorts where, even if snowfall is not guaranteed for skiers and snowboarders, there are plenty of family activities on offer: guided walks, sledging, tubing and even avalanche rescue training (at Glencoe). If the weather permits, mountain biking using resort facilities is another possibility. The Ski Club of Great Britain lists the five resorts in the Highlands thus:

  • Glenshee Ski Centre – “largest of the resorts with 22 lifts and 36 runs”
  • Glencoe Mountain Resort – “the oldest….the most convenient to get to”
  • Nevis Range – “the scenery is amazing….with Ben Nevis looming overhead”
  • Cairngorm Mountain –“perhaps the best known…” in a National Park
  • The Lecht – “Scotland’s fun family ski area” …. With “tubing and devil-karting”
New years eve 2020 lit up in fireworks

New years eve 2020

Time for The Gay Gordons!
Oddly enough, Christmas was almost outlawed in Scotland for a long time after the Reformation, hence the rise of Hogmanay as the more important festive date. (Christmas Day only became a Scottish public holiday in 1958.) Attached to Hogmanay are a host of iconic traditions of international renown:

  1. First-footing – after midnight on 31 st December, the first person to enter the house must be a dark gentleman bearing a lump of coal
  2. Auld Lang Syne – the song that resounds not only across Scotland but around the world in memory of the national bard, Rabbie Burns. Just don’t join hands too early!
  3. The Gay Gordons – usually the first dance at a traditional Scottish country dance called a ceilidh. Towns across Scotland host festive ceilidhs open to the public in their town halls and churches, often with a generous charitable purpose.
Edinburgh Christmas Market

Edinburgh Christmas Market

A warm welcome awaits…
The feeling of goodwill is palpable during the festive season in Scotland’s cities, towns, pubs, churches and town halls. Formerly concentrated at Hogmanay, the season now extends to cover Christmas and the two public holidays on 1st and 2nd January. Why a second day of holiday? To recover from the Hogmanay revels, of course!

…but check your diary
When planning a seasonal holiday to Scotland, it is always worth checking the public holiday dates, some of which are different in the rest of the UK. For example, the public holiday for St Andrew’s Day, 30th November (a Friday), in honour of Scotland’s patron saint, was shifted to Monday 2nd December in 2019. The Christmas Day and Boxing Day holidays fall conveniently on Wednesday and Thursday in 2019, so there’s a good chance of there being an ‘off work’ feeling from Friday 27 th right through Christmas and into Hogmanay which won’t officially finish until Friday 3rd January 2020!”

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