What I Did During The Holidays

Amongst other things, I was one of the 20,000-odd people carrying a torch in this little gathering:

Then, a couple of days later, with around 100,000 others, went to the New Year’s Eve concert in the middle of town that ended at midnight with this:

New Year – or Hogmanay as it’s properly known around these parts – has always been a big deal in Scotland, but in Edinburgh these days it’s turning into a full-on Winter Fire Festival that runs over several days. There’s a definitely pagan feel to it, with flaming torches, burning wicker effigies, tons of fireworks, and great hordes of friendly drunk folk.

It’s so obvious why people needed this kind of thing back in ye olden days, and still respond to it today. In the midst of a cold, wet, dark winter, the light and the heat and crowds and noise are – if you’re in a tolerant or an excitable kind of mood – life-affirming.

I increasingly see the whole festive period as a three-stage process, cycling from the public to the private and back again. It starts off some time in early December, when a strange sort of collective, almost unconscious delirium slowly begins to take hold. The shared consumerist frenzy slowly builds, goaded on by relentless TV advertising and the forests of Christmas decorations that sprout in shops and on our streets, until there is a great eruption of mass hysteria on or around the 23rd and 24th of December. This is an intensely public phase of the festivities, enacted by thousands upon thousands, played out on the high streets, in the malls and at the cash registers. It’s all good fun, though I’m not sure you could call it harmless.

There’s then a second, much quieter, and increasingly brief, phase (only loosely related to the first, as far as I can tell) in which everyone retreats into tiny little groups of friends and family, turning their backs upon the outside world for a day or two, and clusters around the TV and the food-laden platters. This is the private, quiet stage of the process, and it’s kind of nice.

Then the tidal wave of New Year’s Eve celebrations looms on the horizon, and the celebrations are back out onto the street, into the bars, zooming into the night sky on rocket trails.

It’s good stuff, but it’s all done now. There’ll be another along all to soon, but in the meantime, here’s hoping we all have a good 2008.

Oh, and as a bonus, to get the year off on the right foot, some of that white stuff that used to be so common when I was a kid but isn’t any more shows up, and I get to make my mark on 2008 right here in it’s first week:

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