Why we shouldn’t Bemoan the cost of change in Festive Edinburgh

by Scott Douglas

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Torchlight procession in EdinburghA version of this post first appeared in the Edinburgh Now supplement of the Daily Record

On Hogmanay 2012 I joined Edinburgh’s legendary torchlight procession for the first time.

It involved shelling out around £10 per-person for a torch, before standing for a numbingly long time on packed Chambers Street trying to hear anything from the dot in the distance, which I’m told was a Forth DJ.

The sheer numbers who turned out meant the procession was extensively delayed. After a painstakingly slow meander the length of North Bridge we reached the foot of Calton Hill – only to be told that it was full

Thousands of people were advised they wouldn’t be able to watch the dramatic Viking boat burning, except on a series of screens.

I didn’t mind too much as it had provided a diversionary hour or two to catch up with old family friends and the river of fire pouring across North Bridge is a sight worth seeing, even at a tenner a pop and in shuffling slo-mo.

As our two families wandered home we also still got to see the Calton Hill fireworks display, ooh-ing and aah-ing our way through it as we watched from afar.

Would I hurry back to take part in the procession a year later? Probably not. The two lasting things I took from the event 12 months ago were difficult to remove waxy torch splashes on my coat and a vague sense of an event where demand quite simply exceeds what it can supply.

Ten years ago the torchlight procession felt commercially innocent and impromptu. In the intervening decade it’s grown from a small, word-of-mouth event with hippy-esque roots and a homespun philosophy into a corporate money maker, part of Edinburgh Winter Festivals, which are efficiently marketed across the globe.

Likewise I’m sure plenty of Edinburgh folk over 40 can recall the days when the main gathering place for Hogmanay to see in the bells was at The Tron. When it eventually morphed into the party on Princes Street it was free to attend. The people who stand on Princes Street two weeks from now to usher in 2014 will each have paid £20 each for the privilege.

There’s no point railing against these changes. In some ways it’s surprising how slow and careful things have been in the ‘festivalisation’ of Christmas and New Year in Edinburgh. It may have shuffled upon us at the speed of the torchlight procession, but in a city with 66 years of Edinburgh Festival Fringe under its belt, it was just as inevitable.

More torchlight processionDoes that mean the Hogmanay street party or its fiery preamble are anything less than enjoyable for the huge numbers of tourists, visitors and locals alike who’ll be getting fully into the swing with nary a thought for how much things have changed?

Nope. Tens of thousands of people are going to have a riotously good time, be heartily entertained and hopefully pass on what a fantastic place Edinburgh is to visit over the festive season.

You’d think that if anyone would understand the power of market forces to reshape an opportunity, it would be market traders.

Yet a number of those involved in the traditional Christmas market have been rumbling and grumbling about the additional costs they face this year and the addition of too much alcohol on sale. Meanwhile some visitors have also quailed at the prices being charged.

Really? What did they expect?

The centre of Edinburgh has been transformed into a winter wonderland, packed full of attractions and things to do and see. The decision to extend it from Princes Street Gardens and The Mound into St Andrew Square has been delivered with aplomb.

Despites its growth, the traditional market still feels authentic, the whole thing looks great and there is something for everyone, even if the prices are a bit steep. In short, the organisers have done a really classy job.

Even the rides are a cut above. The launch of the 200ft Star Flyer ride is one of the most talked about happenings in Edinburgh for years.

While it had to shut at the weekend after the bottom fell off one of the seats, rest assured there is no chance of the a*** falling out of Edinburgh’s winter festival anytime soon.

The city is a fantastic place to spend Christmas and to see in the New Year – and we should also be celebrating the success of the Winter Festivals.

Whatever you choose to do, have a good one when it comes.


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