Festival in very good elf

Picture: Scott Taylor
Picture: Scott Taylor
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FOR all that most people enjoy the arrival of the festive season – the excitement it brings for children, time spent with family and friends – its ever-growing commercialisation can often dampen spirits.

So what better way to lift them than by keeping things simple? A community carol service perhaps? A magical Santa’s grotto? Some craft stalls? This weekend’s Christmas Charity Festival in Inverleith Park ticks all the boxes – and it’s free.

“We like to think of ourselves as a homemade festival,” says co-organiser Terry Crossley. “That’s the essence of it really – we’re not a commercial event.”

Every year hundreds of people pack themselves into the park to make the most of the hugely 
popular event – an opportunity to come together with loved ones as the festive excitement builds. And this year looks to be no exception with huge numbers anticipated.

For those who have come to love the likes of the Santa Toddle and Parade, or the Edinburgh Christmas Walk and Run, this year’s festival will not disappoint, with all such regulars on the line-up. Yet there are new additions to the 2104 programme too which are also expected to excite, including the arrival of Santa’s reindeer to Edinburgh, all the way from the Cairngorms. Visitors – young and old – can meet both the man himself and his trusty four-footed helpers from 10am today and tomorrow.

This year’s festival will also boast a Toddle Tent with activities for youngsters, set to include festive storytelling, Christmas card making and gingerbread decorating. There will also be a huge carol service, much bigger than similar events held in previous years.

“It all takes place in a covered tent,” says Terry. “And it will be much bigger than last year, with people also getting free mince pies and mulled wine – or hot chocolate – at the end.”

The service takes place at 3pm today and will be led by the Rev John Cowie from Stockbridge Parish Church. Tomorrow there will be more singing, courtesy of Edinburgh Academy School Choir and Edinburgh Children’s Choir, from 3pm.

Perhaps one of the biggest draws this year for many festival goers, however, will be the spectacle of Santa officially opening the event itself tomorrow. He will leave on his sleigh from The Raeburn, in Raeburn Place, at 12.30pm, led by George Watson’s College Pipes and Drums – and likely many eager followers, keen to get a glimpse of him up close.

From there he will head for his grotto where it is anticipated there will be many enthusiastic youngsters waiting to reel off their Christmas lists and have the moment captured on camera.

“It has been said by many that this Santa’s grotto is the best in Edinburgh,” says Terry. “Again, I think the draw of the whole festival is that is a community, volunteer-led event. All the money raised on the day goes to the charities involved.”

Last year the Santa’s grotto (open this year from 9.30am to 5pm both today and tomorrow) became fully booked. All children get time to speak with Santa, receive a gift bag and have their photograph taken, all for £5. Early booking is advisable (see festival website below).

But if chatting with Santa, eating mince pies and listening to live music is not your thing, perhaps something a little more energetic is on the cards. Late entry desks will be in place at the park (from 10am today and 8am tomorrow) for the 5K Christmas Run (taking place tomorrow, 9.30am) and for the Santa Toddle and Parade (tomorrow at 1.30pm), perfect for little ones and those in buggies.

For full details and booking information for the Christmas Charity Festival, visit www.christmascharityfestival. com or call 0131-336 3620.