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Whatever happened to Hogmanay?

uploaded-file-70554Another year over, a new one just begun. And for the first time in years, midnight found me not at home with my nearest and dearest, but as a ticket-paying guest at one of the official events put on by our capital city’s Council. It certainly made me appreciate Auld Lang Syne…

Not many years ago, Hogmanay in Scotland was an authentic celebration of friends and neighbours, where ‘first-footing’ with a dram and more in hand went on through the wee small hours, and everyone’s door was open. (I know, as more than once I’ve stumbled through the wrong one, only to be welcomed into the party regardless!) Here in Edinburgh anyone seeking a larger crowd met by the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile, where for centuries a few thousand folk would find their friends amid the throng, and greet the bells with a genuine outpouring of rare communal friendship.

But of course, this made no one any money (bar a few pubs and offies). And sadly, to the great and good of Edinburgh City Council, that meant it had no value.

So the town’s own streets were barriered off to any citizen unwilling to pay for tickets. And overnight the centuries-old tradition was destroyed. Instead, international marketing brought vast crowds of Japanese and Russian tourists, being performed at by ‘headline’ bands with no relevance to the meaning of the occasion. And at the stroke of midnight everyone stares open-mouthed at the sky for a firework spectacular, delaying any wellwishing until after the real moment has passed. The hotels are happy. But I have to ask whether this concocted event, with the same unimaginative components as every other city in the world, is the best we could do with our rich traditions?

For my own part I steered clear of the city centre. For a mere 45 pounds (that’s about 90 of your greenbacks to our US friends) I was admitted into an official ceilidh at the Queen’s Hall - a nice enough event, but with just a three-piece ceilidh band using recorded backing tracks, and a single DJ between sets, the ticket price of four times the norm said it all about the real meaning of the modern Hogmanay.

Thankfully I believe this cynical profit-fueled destruction of our priceless heritage is confined to the major cities. So to anyone thinking of heading for Scotland next year in seach of the real Hogmanay, you’ll still find it. Just avoid anything with a brochure. Head for somewhere else - anywhere else! - a wee town, or even village, and buy a few folk drinks in their local. You’ll have a great night. That’s where the real traditions survive.

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