River of Fire at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

I have lots of catch up to do. Since the end if December we have been to Malta and to York, England, with New Year’s in Edinburgh in between those two trips.

This was our first New Years or hogmanay in Scotland. Hogmanay is the Scots word for December 31st. Traditions during the multi-day celebration originated with Viking invaders from Scandinavia. During the years that Christmas was banned in Scotland and people worked through Christmas, New Year’s became a big, big deal. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay extravaganza includes a torch parade through Old Town attended by 40,000 people on December 30th.


I had purchased tickets for the three of us to be one of the 40,000 people to take part in the torch parade that starts at George IV Bridge and goes through Old Town, ending up on Calton Hill. This turned out to be one of the best holiday traditions we have ever taken part in. We put on our participant bracelets and got in line to get our torch. To our surprise they gave us a REAL torch, yes, in safety conscious UK, where you cannot even have electrical outlets in bathrooms, they gave us real torches. I was thinking they would give out some kind of electric light or glow stick, but in true Viking tradition, there must be fire! It was a long stick of slow burning wax that got lit at the beginning of the procession.

Very orderly torch pick up
Our torch
Sam was excited to hold it, even if it wasn’t lit yet

The lighting of the torches started at the front of the line of 40,000 people and the flame was passed back through the queue from torch to torch, quite a moment to have your neighbor light your torch.

Waiting for torch lighting
Here comes the flame
Here comes the flame

They call the torch procession a “river of fire” because of the snaking trail of flames that you see as the train of people proceeds down Princes Street and then up to Calton Hill. We felt like the proverbial villagers with torches, just lacking our pitchforks.

River of fire
River of fire
River of fire heading up to Calton Hill
River of fire
River of fire
Ascending to Calton Hill
Ascending to Calton Hill

As we made the ascent up to Calton Hill I was wondering how it would end? would there just be buckets of water to extinguish our torches? would people stick around? was there any entertainment up there? well, what better way to end the river of fire but with……..you got it, more fire of course. There was a huge bon fire. There was definitely something that felt a bit pagan and ritualistic about the bon fire, on top of a hill, surrounded by lit torches. Buildings on Calton Hill were colorfully lit and there was music and food trucks. It all culminated with fireworks.

Bon fire, Calton Hill
Calton Hill
Bon fire, Calton Hill
Calton Hill

Thank you Edinburgh for this memorable opportunity, oh, and thanks invading Viking ancestors for bringing this tradition to Scotland. We met a lot of visitors in the crowd that evening and this definitely was a unique experience and a good excuse for people to come to Edinburgh to spend a New Year’s.


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