A TOUCH of New York has been brought to Edinburgh as a new-look ice rink was unveiled as one of many cool attractions transforming the Capital into a winter wonderland for Christmas.
A 22ft tree decorated with thousands of lights will stand tall over the rink, which comes complete with an après-skate area where tired visitors can rest their weary limbs and nurse bruises while enjoying mulled wine and a mince pie.
The ever-popular ice rink is just one of the attractions set to make this year’s Christmas celebrations in the Capital even better than last year, with more than half a million people expected to flock to the city spectacular. “The site is looking better than it has ever looked, it is beautiful and really spectacular,” said event producer, Nickie Gott.
“We have new elements like the 3D cinema and we’ve tried to create more of a Times Square experience.
“We thought we’d bring a bit of pizazz to the ice rink with the new configuration in the middle and the après-skate area where people can sit under the trees and enjoy their hot drinks. It’s really lovely.”
Planning for the six-week spectacle began in April with key players such as Santa and his reindeer having to be booked early.
Every bulb was undergoing a final check today as 50 on-site staff worked frantically to ensure the that the lights were ready to shine when the switch was flicked to get the Capital’s party started at 5pm this evening.
A giant Santa Claus, complete with a kilt, will get the festivities under way as he leads other characters through the crowds and up The Mound towards Edinburgh’s Christmas Tree.
A journey through the “Christmas Dream Machine” awaits them, with colourful illuminations, awe-inspiring aerial performances and pyrotechnics, depicting the dreams of a child at Christmas.
Deb Mullins, artistic director of Emergency Exit Arts, the company behind the spectacular show, said it was inspired by the city’s history of invention and engineering.
“It’s all a figment of the imagination of a little girl before Christmas and what presents she is going to get,” he said.
“She dreams about Father Christmas’s dream machine. All sorts of things happen as a result including a fantastic spectacle from the little girl’s dreams.”
The show will culminate in the lighting of the tree, the traditional gift to Edinburgh from the people of Hordaland in Norway, before a Christmas Brazilian Samba Band will play and dance its way along Princes Street at 6pm.
The action switches to St Andrew Square Garden where an after-show party will entertain late-night shoppers and revellers.
The celebrations continue until 8pm with a performance featuring the finalists of Edinburgh’s Got Talent.
This year’s winner Rebecca Traynor, who was with friends among the crowds at the big switch-on last year, said she could never have imagined taking part 12 months on.
The 15-year-old, who attends Musselburgh Grammar, will sing Holy Night and there will be performances from runner-up Billie Finlayson, Shayne Kidd and Claire Anderson. “It’s really exciting,” Rebecca said.
“I have a lot of friends who are coming, some that haven’t heard me sing before, which is more frightening than singing to a big crowd. I’m sure it will be good though.”
There will be the speed-painting talents of Jon Hicks, comedy from Bread and Butter, new girl group Gurlesque, the cast from Dirty Dancing, dramatic performances from the pipes and drums of Clanadonia, and a fire spectacular from Flame Oz.
Tomorrow night, the focus will switch to Edinburgh Castle, with celebrations to mark St Andrew’s Day.
More than 400 lantern-clad schoolchildren are expected to march to the sound of pipes and drums, with a specially created show – Carnival at the Castle – at 7pm on the Esplanade.
The show will be woven around the myths and stories of how St Andrew became the Patron Saint of Scotland and how the Saltire became the national flag, along with a celebration of Scotland’s great thinkers, inventors, artists and sporting heroes.
Rounding off the weekend of celebrations, the traditional Nativity Carol Concert will take place in St Andrew Square Garden on Sunday from 4pm,
Carols will be sung around sculptor Tim Chalk’s Nativity Scene, which was commissioned and donated to the city by Sir Tom and Lady Farmer, to mark the first Sunday of Advent.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said he was sure the activities would have a positive impact on the economy for traders.
He said: “I certainly do think it gives the economy in Edinburgh a boost. The more activities we put on to bring people in to the city over Christmas, the better it is for them. If you get December right it is by far their biggest thing and makes for a good year.”
Reasons to be full of cheer
• The Christmas dream machine spectacular, tonight, 5pm at The Mound. After Show, St Andrew Square 6.15-8pm
• Lantern Making, Edinburgh Castle, tomorrow, 11am–4pm. Night Time Spectacular, 7–8pm.
• Santa’s arrival December 8, in St Andrew Square Gardens, 3pm.
• Santa’s Post Boxes, December 9-24, beside the ice rink and in the Highland Village Christmas.
• Reindeer in St Andrew Square, December 9-23, visit Santa’s Reindeer between 11am-3pm.
• Nativity Carol Concert, St Andrew Square, December 2 at 4pm. Nativity Scene, December 2 to January 6.
• The Lost Elves on Rose Street, December 1-24, find Santa’s lost elves.
• Edinburgh’s Ice Rink, November to 6 January 2013.
• The Great Edinburgh Santa Run, December 9, West Princes Street Gardens, check-in 9.30-10.30am.