Seasons of Stories and Celebrations
Edinburgh in Autumn is majestic as the trees change their colours and draw people into parks and down to the Water of Leith to admire the leaves. It’s a time of reflection, and as we take out our coats and begin to think of the fireside, it is only fitting that Edinburgh is host to the International Storytelling Festival.
The Festival is an annual celebration of traditional and contemporary live storytelling, continuing and developing the oral traditions that are as old as humanity itself. Scotland has a history rich in stories and folklore, from oral histories to fantastic myths and legends. The Festival this year will turn to the folktales of Europe, in honour of the 200-year anniversary of the publication of the Brothers Grimm Tales. That collection of stories sparked a new interest in folktales as readers recognised their universal humanity and art. Today, storytelling is once again flourishing across Europe, and this festival brings the best of the Europe’s storytellers together to be heard in Scotland’s historic capital.
As the storytellers and their audiences of old knew, one of the best ways to get to know a place is to learn its histories and myths. The Storytelling Festival provides a wonderful opportunity to see Edinburgh through its stories, with events that illuminate and enchant an experience of the city. There’s Arthur’s Seat: Myth, Lore and Legend, at 5pm on Wednesday the 24th of October, providing an insight into the evocative yet mysterious nature of the famous volcanic mountain. Or Hearthside Tales, at 10.45am and 12pm on Saturday the 27th of October, where Scottish stories for the young (and young at heart) will be told by the fireside. Mercat Tours are running a special tour for the Festival – A Tale O Twa Touns, also on the 27th – which will follow on from the hearthside and take story-lovers from the Old Town world to the new.
The Festival will end with Hallowe’en Hosting, celebrating the night of the circle, Samhainn, Scotland’s ancient New Year festival. Legend tells that on this night the worlds of light and dark, life and death draw close. The evening’s host will be storyteller and bearer of traditions Seoras Macpherson, from Skye. He will lead a group of storytellers from Scotland and Europe, who together will steer audiences through the evening’s dangers, sharing with them this transition to winter.
Luckily, winter coming definitely doesn’t mean a withdrawal into homes for the people of Edinburgh, the city famous for throwing the season’s greatest party. Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year celebration, is a three-day extravaganza to wish the old year well and welcome in the new. There are all sorts of events appropriate for every age group and interest, and it’s easy to let yourself get swept up in the revelries.
Hogmanay begins on the 30th of December with the Torchlight Procession, where thousands of torch carriers create a river of fire from the Royal Mile to the Son et Lumiére and fireworks on Calton Hill. This spectacular event is free for observers; for those wanting to take part, torches are for sale, and all proceeds go to charity.
On the 31st, begin your evening with the Candlelit Concert in St Giles Cathedral, a wonderful concert from the St Giles Cathedral Choir with the St Giles Camerata and an incredible array of young soloists. Later, choose an option. You can: head to the Street Party to dance your way into the New Year with 80,000 others, enjoying live music and entertainment, DJs, giant screens, outdoor bars and finally a wonderful view of the midnight fireworks shooting up from Edinburgh Castle. Or: find the Keilidh, the open-air Scottish dance experience in an exclusive area of the Street Party with its own food and drink area, traditional music and a Ceilidh Caller to teach you the moves. Or, thirdly: attend the brilliant Concert in the Garden, which every year has a headline music artist and many special guests in a performance which culminates in the fireworks, and which every year sells out. Whichever you choose, you are sure to have an amazing night of celebration.
If all this partying is making you worry about the way your head might feel come January 1st, never fear: the locals have developed an excellent way to welcome the morning on New Year’s Day. For 25 years thousands of people have chosen to get up early on the first day of the year, often donning fancy dress, and take a dive into the River Forth beneath the iconic Forth Bridges. The event, called the Queensferry Loony Dook, raises thousands of pounds for charity every year, and is a Hogmanay institution. Back in Edinburgh and all dried off, take the day to enjoy a full programme of celebrations and events throughout the city.