Tinsel towns: Glasgow and Edinburgh Winter Festivals

Tinsel towns

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

Edinburgh's Hogmanay Street Party

Famed as one of the best New Year celebrations in the world, thousands of revellers bring in the New Year in the centre of Edinburgh with a mix of live music, DJs and varying knowledge of the lyrics to 'Auld Lang Syne'.

Glasgow's Christmas Lights Switch-On!

Join the cast of Aladdin (this year's SECC panto) and the Lazytown Sports Club Team featuring Sportacus and Stephanie for a super-energetic start to Glasgow's Christmas festivities, including the ever-impressive fireworks display over the City Chambers. All attendees require a ticket, including small children and babies.

Princes Street Gardens Ice Rink

Glide like an angel, or fall like a toddler; have fun either way on the ice rink set below Edinburgh Castle, a now traditional feature of the city's Christmas fun.

Edinburgh's Christmas

Once again Edinburgh gets its glitter on for a packed festive season: fairy lights, ice rinks, Victorian fairgrounds, festive markets, concerts, Santa and loads more events, all leading up to Hogmanay.

Glasgow Winterfest

From when the lights are switched on 16 Nov until the last memories of Christmas fade on 11 Jan the city is taken over with an ice rink, Santa Dash, concerts, the Irn Bru Carnival and, of course, the Hogmanay bash on Wed 31 Dec.

Glasgow's Hogmanay

The city welcomes 2008 with a party in George Square offering live bands, fireworks and an action-packed programme of events for all the family including music from headliner Paolo Nutini. Tickets from www.ticketmaster.co.uk or 08444 777700.

The Big Stage

Daily free entertainment to keep you lingering in George Square despite the cold. The packed and ever-increasing schedule offers showcases on Mondays and Tuesdays (5-7pm), tea dances on Tuesdays (1-3pm), festive films on Wednesdays (6-8pm), a party with Real Radio on Fridays (6-9.30pm) and jazz Saturdays (5-7pm). Coming…

Christmas Light Switch-on

See the city become illuminated, from the massive tree on the Mound (a gift from the people of Hordaland) to the branches in small winding closes, as the city's Christmas festival commences. The lights of George Street and the Royal Mile will follow at 6pm.

Glasgow Santa Dash

A five kilometre fun run dressed as jolly old Saint Nic. As well as working off some of those festive mince pies the race raises funds for worthy causes such as Beaston Cancer Charity.

RSNO Chorus Christmas Carols

Big stage and Crimbo classics at this outdoor concert.

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