Alternative Christmas

Gagging on the glühwein? Unable to stomach another twee carol concert? Kirstin Innes rounds up some more unusual things to do over the festive season

With both Edinburgh and Glasgow running dedicated Christmas festivals this year, tapping into the festive spirit has never been so easy. The city centres are hoaching with fake snow-capped German market stalls punting mulled wine, and suddenly there’s a fairy-lit ice rink in every public space bigger than a postage stamp.

But what is there out there for people who don’t like to do their Yule-by-numbers? We’re not talking about your hardcore Scrooges here, just those independent souls who remain unmoved by angelically-harmonising primary school choirs. Let’s rediscover the real spirit of Christmas, people: sharing, tradition, celebration and childish, hedonistic gluttony.

It’s not festive in even the loosest sense of the word, but writer Magi Gibson and artist Anthony Schrag’s exhibition REBELLAND (Glasgow, GOMA, until Sun 10 Feb), pieced together from their outreach work with youth groups in the city’s marginalised communities is witty, interesting and important. The exhibition, composed of collaborative photography and writing generated when Gibson and Schrag encouraged Glasgow teenagers to explore what sectarianism, territory and identity meant to them, is part of GOMA’s ongoing Blind Faith project, looking at human rights, racial and religious divides in contemporary Glasgow.

So that’s your goodwill to all men sorted. However, December is also a time for reflection, and musing on times past. Christmas on the Closes (The Real Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh, until Sun 23 Dec) recreates traditional Capital Christmasses from the 1500s to the 1900s, and invites locals to examine some of Scotland’s stranger seasonal traditions: find out why exactly your Hogmanay first-footer ought to be a dark-haired hunk bearing black bun and coal (we think it’s pretty evident, ourselves). If this veers perilously close to Christmas kitsch for you, shock it all away with City of the Dead’s Festive Fright Fest ghost tours (Royal Mile, Edinburgh), which start on Thu 27th Dec, and promise ‘fa-la-la-la-laaargh’ for the holiday season.

One of the nicest-sounding celebrations Around Town has heard of this month is the Golden Hour (Forest Café, Edinburgh, Wed 19 Dec). ‘It’s a sorta spoken word cabaret thing, but with a little spot of everything that makes the Forest Café the Forest Café, too; music, a little bit of film . . .’ says dangerously laid-back master of ceremonies Ryan Van Winkle, who has been running Golden Hours for well over a year. ‘It’s a curated event: a few well chosen emergent writers, throw in a couple of cartoons (by NYC artist Dan Meth), and then finish things up with a big party.’ The Forest’s choir have been practising various secular carols for a proper singalong, before ceding the stage to reggae five-piece Diddly Squat, who are flying up from London for the event. Oh, and it’s BYOB, too, which ought to soothe the most savagely shopped-out wallet.

However, for a proper festive frenzy, hype yourself up on the neon lights, pumping tunes and sickly sweet confectionary of the now-traditional Irn Bru Carnival (SECC, Glasgow, Fri 21 Dec–Sun 13 Jan, not Christmas Day). Noise, colours, and snogging like teenagers round the back of the waltzers. That’s how we’ll be spending the festive season. Probably.

The IRN-BRU Carnival

Are you brave enough to take on the Airmaxx 360 and Sticky Wall at Europe's biggest indoor carnival? If you don't have the stomach for thrill rides there's also traditional family rides like dodgems, waltzers and a helter skelter, with an inflatable play area for the wee ones.

City of the Dead Tours Festive Fright Fest!

Put some fah lah laaaargh into your festive holiday! Christmas themed ghost walks featuring an investigation into the world famous MacKenzie poltergeist.

Christmas on the Closes

Find out what a traditional Christmas would have been like on the Edinburgh closes from the 1500s-1800s on the festive version of the spooky underground tour. There's a mug of mulled wine or hot apple cider (non alcoholic) as well as a mince pie to calm your nerves afterwards.


Writer Magi Gibson and artist Anthony Schrag have been working with youth groups around Glasgow on issues of sectarianism and its related issues of territory, neighbourhood and identity. The exhibition explores some of the artwork and writings the groups have produced.

The Golden Hour: Let's Get Lyrical Special

A special edition of the literary cabaret for the Edinburgh City of Literature festival of song lyrics. With words from Kei Miller, Emma Bartholemew and Rodge Glass, and music from Burnt Island (aka Rodge Glass and friends in musical mode) and Endor. Part of Let's Get Lyrical.

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