Tinsel towns: Glasgow and Edinburgh Winter Festivals
Kirstin Innes takes a look at the free activities going on in both cities over the festive season
Ah, remember back when the civic contribution to the festive effort started and ended with a couple of lightbulb angels hanging off the lampposts, and city centre street parties at Hogmanay were spontaneous and unticketed? These days, Edinburgh and Glasgow begin their outdoor Christmas arms race some time in mid-November, with outdoor ice rinks and funfairs, street theatre, multimedia light shows, public displays of Santa and mulled wine markets, all leading up to rival celebrity-laden and cancellation-prone outdoor gigs on New Year’s Eve.
Putting our Scroogey cynicism aside for a second, there’s no denying that the flurry of twinkly activity around George Square in Glasgow and Princes Street in Edinburgh is a great short-cut to seasonal goodwill. Whether or not you want to fork out for the funfair rides, or take a scoot about on either city’s outdoor ice rink (half close your eyes and you might be in Central Park!), a slurp of mulled wine and a wander round the German and Highland Markets in Princes Street Gardens can do wonders for flagging festive enthusiasm.
It all starts, of course, when the lights go on and the fireworks go off. Glasgow’s admirably secular Winterfest kicks off on Sunday 16 November with a host of wintry characters like Jack Frost and the Snow Queen assembling in George Square to flick the switch and go ‘ooooh!’ Light Night in Edinburgh, on Thursday 27 November, opens Princes Street Gardens – sorry, we mean Edinburgh’s Winter Wonderland, of course – to the public, utilising Europe’s biggest outdoor rink in a spectacular show. Yes, it’s Christmas, on ice!
There’s a lot of music on for free, too. Edinburgh keeps it traditional with a Norwegian Carol Concert in St Giles Cathedral, also on Sunday 27 November, whereas in Glasgow there’s a party on every night of the week on George Square’s Big Stage – look out in particular for the two-day Shindig (Sat 29 & Sun 30 Nov), a packed programme of Celtic and Scottish music and ceilidh dancing in celebration of St Andrew’s Day.
Things really, er, heat up in December, as Santa Claus is coming to both towns at once on Sunday 14 December. We suspect the multitasking old gent might have got in a bit of help, though – in Glasgow, the Santa Dash is hoping to get over 2000 little helpers wearing red and white pounding the streets in the name of charity. Edinburgh’s Santa Stroll has the same idea, just at a slightly more sedate pace, and ends up with All A Twinkle!, a street theatre light show in the Grassmarket. There is an entry fee for both events, but it does all go to charity.
Sunday 21 December is another good day for free Christmassy feeling. Still in the Grassmarket, the frankly bonkers-sounding Ding Dong Merrily On High! (no, that’s really what it’s called) promises to fill the air above Edinburgh’s indie shopping Mecca with angels singing and tubular bells ringing. We’ve also heard rumours of butterflies, fish and light shows. We’re not sure what it all means, but we think we want a piece of it.
Same date, different city, and Glasgow’s going all traditional, as the RSNO Chorus take to the Big Stage for a night of carolling.
Of course, it’s all leading up to Hogmanay, and this year a pensioner-voiced prodigy from Paisley is hoping to broach the East/West divide and spread goodwill to all (wo)men in the Central Belt. Paulo Nutini will be getting things started at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, before speeding off to ring in the bells at George Square in Glasgow. We really, really hope he’s going to be spanning the M8 by helicopter. Or maybe flying in on Santa’s sleigh …
For full information about winter celebrations in the city centres, see Glasgow’s Winterfest, www.winterfestglasgow.com and Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay websites: www.edinburghschristmas.com, www.edinburghshogmanay.com
we’ve heard rumours of butterflies, fish and light shows