Colin Montgomery: Yearning for the gift of Christmas past

Hogmanay celebrations have changed in the city since the Tron Kirk was the place to be
Hogmanay celebrations have changed in the city since the Tron Kirk was the place to be
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I’m just going outside and may be some time. Actually, on second thoughts I’m staying here by the pub hearth and may be some time, as winter has arrived in Edinburgh. That opening salvo was of course the last utterance of ill-fated Antarctic explorer, Lawrence Oates (he of the disastrous Captain Scott expedition). Not that the onset of December has us all chewing the legs off ponies at Gorgie Farm; things aren’t that bad quite yet. But it does signal a distinct change in tone around the city.

Don’t get me wrong – no doom and gloom. As a professional cynic, I have enough of that stored away to depress the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. No, this piece is more an observation about the city’s new winter get-up, with the German Market, thrill rides and all the glitz and glam of George Street very much front of mind. Only a sour-faced so-and-so could resent all the excitement the Capital’s sparkly change of clothes brings. So let me frame this week’s outpourings another way . . .

Put simply, I’m a sucker for nostalgia – ah, remember the days when there was no nostalgia? Then again, we’re all guilty of sauntering down memory lane from time to time. It’s when that saunter becomes a ritual slog performed out of a stubborn refusal to face the future that we run into trouble. I’d like to think I don’t fall into that category. I mean, while I’ve never been a signed-up subscriber to Zeitgeist Now!, adapting to new situations hasn’t ever been an issue for me. My partner says it’s because I’m a rat, as in born in the Year of the Rat. A resilient type apparently.

Given all of the cod psychology above, it’s maybe a bit remiss of me to come out with the following: wouldn’t it be just splendid to go back to the days before all this studied exercise in celebration? Some lights, a big tree on The Mound and a few crepe decorations in the shops would do it. A street celebration or two. Better still, how about a New Year gathering outside the Tron Bar (as was) off the Royal Mile without iron gates, bouncers and wristbands for company? And while we’re at it, how about Santa is forced to wear a hair-shirt and hitch a ride on a Megabus to do his rounds?

I jest about the sleigh takeover – even I’m not that much of a killjoy. The other two aren’t far off the mark though. Would “less is more” around the city centre force us to engage more with the advent of the festive season in our minds, rather than have to be force-fed constant prompts in some garish fun show? In other words, would you like to go back to a time when the city didn’t need to sell itself as a winter playground from late November through to February? I find the idea quite appealing. Perhaps that’s just me. Or it could be thanks to one of my life-shaping Edinburgh experiences.

Hogmanay 1992. Floating down the Royal Mile after more than a few scoops in the Quill Bar. Gathering in the mushrooming merriment outside the Tron Kirk. Looking skywards past the intoxicated youths shimmying up lampposts to see the clock strike 12. Kisses from strangers. Then dispersing into the night to find some party or other. And all the while, not a ticket, security check or one single reminder of some corporate sponsor or other who made the fun possible.

Loads of Edinburghers past and present will have their own version of that story – and it’s only fair to admit that many of the younger vintage will have enjoyed a fabulous time because of, and not despite of, the amazing organisation that now makes the Capital’s Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations such a big draw for people across the world. It’s not a question of sleeting on your parade, it’s just a question of how much is too much when it comes to setting the scene.

Given the military operation that now passes for our official Christmas™ celebrations, with every last penny squeezed out of us until the pips squeak, it all seems so charmingly naïve. Although I guess I seem more than a little naïve too – not to mention, as someone who has worked in advertising, a rank hypocrite. Hey, the city’s skint right? What harm is it doing? Surely, if we don’t do it, some other city destination will? “Yes you’re right” to all of those takedowns of the wistful yearning I’ve succumbed to. It still doesn’t stop you looking fondly towards less commercial times.

This is not a call for some puritanical Presbyterian crackdown. Just a thought that it would be good to turn the dial down a little to offer us a less turbo-charged transition into the Christmas period in what is one of the most perfect picture-postcard venues for anyone’s wintry celebrations; if not this year, maybe one day. Until that blessed time arrives, I shall dip a toe into the mulled wine with the rest of you.

Just please don’t expect me to get into one of those big uppy-downy things, okay?