Top picks for Christmas events in Edinburgh & Glasgow
Pantomimes, Christmas markets and ice skating to get your seasonal spirit flowing
There's more to Christmas-time than just mistletoe and wine. Niki Boyle rounds up the best festive celebrations in Glasgow and Edinburgh to get your seasonal spirit flowing.
The mad scrum that greets the release of tickets for Glasgow's Christmas Lights Switch-On (20 Nov) has been and gone this year, meaning the festive season is well underway. If you haven't bagged those tickets already, you're out of luck, but worry not – there are plenty of other mass-participation events going on, including the Style Mile Christmas Carnival (27 Nov), a 400-strong procession of dancers, drummers and local schoolkids promenading from St Enoch Square to George Square. There's also the Glasgow Santa Dash (11 Dec), where you can dress up and join forces with around 6000 other Santas to run a 5k for charity.
We were about to recommend some retail therapy as a less strenuous alternative to all that activity, but let's be honest: Christmas shopping is just a contact sport with tinsel draped over it. Your traditional Christmas-themed market at least provides a festive soundtrack and the smell of cinnamon while you jostle with your fellow shoppers – choose between the marketplaces at St Enoch Square (10 Nov–22 Dec) and George Square (26 Nov–29 Dec).
Christmas-time also heralds the start of panto season in Glasgow, and there's plenty to choose from. Perennial panto personality Johnny Mac faces off against a villainous Marti Pellow in Aladdin at the SECC (10–31 Dec), while Rab C Nesbitt's Gregor Fisher and Tony Roper play the Ugly Sisters in the King's Theatre production of Cinderella (2 Dec–8 Jan). The Citz has a double-whammy of festive shows: Hansel & Gretel (6 Dec–7 Jan) is a family-friendly show from the team behind 2014's A Christmas Carol, while Simon's Magical Christmas Socks (8–31 Dec) is particularly suited to 3 to 6-year-olds. There's a similar selection on at the Tron – The Night After Christmas (29 Nov–31 Dec) is a Santa-themed show for wee ones, while alt.panto hero Johnny McKnight writes and stars in gender-bending production The Snaw Queen (29 Nov–7 Jan). There's also a less theatrical but more celeb-filled show at the Hydro – head to the Best Ever Christmas Show (22 Dec) if Andy Day, Dave Benson Phillips and other CBBC faces are a big deal in your household.
Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas in Glasgow without some seriously off-the-wall adults-only stuff, so here goes: the stars of RuPaul's Drag Race (Alaska, Manila Luzon, Detox, Katya and Phi Phi O'Hara) are heading up a night of fabulousness at the O2 Academy entitled – what else? – Christmas Queens (3 Dec).
Any discussion of Christmas in Edinburgh wouldn't be even halfway complete without mention of Edinburgh's Christmas, the official Underbelly-run programme of events and attractions that takes place across the city centre. All the old favourites will be present and correct for the duration of the festival (19 Nov–17 Jan), including the outdoor ice rink in St Andrew Square (opens 18 Nov), the Big Wheel next to the Scott Monument and the European Christmas Market on the Mound.
The dazzling Street of Light is also back, this time in a new location – it'll be lighting up the west end of George Street from 21 Nov–24 Dec, with musical accompaniment from Edinburgh Festival Chorus, RSNO Junior Chorus, trad folk group Blazin' Fiddles and bhangra outfit Tigerstyle. The Street of Light will be launched as part of Light Night, aka the big Christmas lights switch-on, a free event on 20 Nov hosted by Forth One's Arlene Stuart.
In terms of live entertainment, the newly established Festival Square Theatre on Lothian Road will be home to two shows. Morgan & West: A (sort of) Christmas Carol Magic Show (1 Dec–7 Jan) is exactly what it sounds like, with the comedy-magic duo tackling Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Five Guys Named Moe (18 Nov–7 Jan) is a jazzy West End musical from Clarke Peters (aka Lester Freamon from The Wire – god, remember The Wire?), featuring tunes drawn from the back-catalogue of legendary swing musician Louis Jordan.
Of course, Edinburgh's Christmas ain't the only show in town. The King's Theatre is donning its panto pants once again, as Andy Gray, Allan Stewart and Grant Stott reunite for this year's production of Jack & the Beanstalk (26 Nov–15 Jan). The Festival Theatre welcomes two revivals: in the main theatre, Scottish Ballet's Hansel & Gretel (10–31 Dec) wanders back into the woods, while the smaller Studio space is home to the infant-friendly Too Many Penguins? (14–24 Dec). Over at the Royal Lyceum, in-yer-face playwright Anthony Neilson directs a new version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (26 Nov–31 Dec), and the Traverse hosts both a new adaptation of the horse-lover's bible, Black Beauty (2–24 Dec), and a slightly more grown-up festive show, Last Christmas (13–23 Dec), about one man's struggle to confront his demons during the festive period. And by 'more grown-up', we mean it has swearwords in it.