The Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

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Ahead of me, there is just a sea of flickering flames. Behind me, the same. Fire as far as the eye can see.

And yet these are peaceful flames. Happy flames, even, being carried by smiling people from all over the world as they parade through the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, after dark. The torches they carry — made of burlap and beeswax — flicker and sputter in the wind, casting shadows and coating every surface with a thin layer of melted wax.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

As I join in with my own torch behind a band of fire-toting Vikings, I can't help laughing out loud. This is something you would never see in America.

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In Edinburgh, however, the Torchlight Procession is an annual event, marking the beginning of the city's Hogmanay celebrations to ring in the New Year. As I've mentioned before, Scotland doesn't just dedicate one day to the passing of the year. Here, Hogmanay lasts for three.

It's with thousands of flaming torches — more than 7,000 in 2012 — that Hogmanay really kicks off in Edinburgh. The thousands of marchers gather outside the National Museum of Scotland on Dec. 30 and then parade down Chambers Street, over the North Bridge, and up to the national monument on Calton Hill, where an effigy of the “old year” is burned and fireworks cap off the evening.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

I was lucky enough to be a torch bearer last month, and I can say that the experience was definitely a highlight of my time in Scotland.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

 Fire has long been a central feature of Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland, dating back to the nation's ancient pagan past. Fire has long symbolized rebirth and new beginnings, and flames are believed to ward off the evil spirits that dwell in the darkness.

We certainly chased off plenty of evil that night in Edinburgh.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

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The Torchlight Procession began in front of the National Museum with something akin to a pep rally. There were over 100 bagpipers and drummers, 26 Up Helly Aa' Vikings, and tens of thousands of spectators bundled up against the Scottish chill, eyes bright and smiles on display.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

After the initial excitement of igniting torches and the surge or torch bearers taking to Chambers Street, the event became oddly calm and serene. The flickering torches bobbing up and down the street became an ideal backdrop for exchanging a smile with a stranger or simply reflecting on the quickly waning year. As we made our way up Calton Hill, my eyes were continually drawn back to the city below, where torch bearers glided across North Bridge like hundreds of fiery ghosts.

The photos, I promise, do not do it justice.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

 Once up on Calton Hill, we waited for 2012 to burn and for the finale fireworks to illuminate the night sky. The night would be an unforgettable start to my Hogmanay experience.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession


To say that the Torchlight Procession was beautiful would be an immense understatement. Yes, there was the occasional fear of catching fire as the wind brushed sparks and wax against my clothing and hair. And yes, the idea of little kids and (possibly) drunk people carrying fiery brands was initially worrisome to this American (you would NEVER find an event like this in the U.S.!). But, in the end, this was one of my favorite parts of Hogmanay.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

The Torchlight Procession is often overshadowed by the other Hogmanay events. But it's definitely worth participating in if you can. It happens every year on Dec. 30, and you have to pre-order your torch if you want to carry one. Torches in 2012 ran 6 GBP, with all proceeds going to charity.


Would YOU want to participate in this Hogmanay tradition?


This campaign is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by VisitScotlandETAGEdinburgh FestivalsHaggis Adventures and SkyscannerThe campaign bloggers were sourced and managed by iambassador. As always, though, all opinions are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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28 Comments on “The Hogmanay Torchlight Procession

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  1. What a unique way to end the year. Stuff like this you don’t get to experience a lot. I like the fire-toting Vikings’ costumes. Reminds me of Spartacus.

    Thanks for the wonderful post Amanda.

      Perhaps the most unique New Years Eve I will ever have!

    Love your shots Amanda, especially the one with you and the Viking 🙂

      Thanks, Peter! 🙂 I can’t take credit for that last shot, though! That was all Emma! (Or maybe Nadine?)

    I am thinking of spending this new year in Edinburgh. Would love to be involved in the procession. They are great photos.

      Make sure you reserve your torch early so you can be guaranteed to take part! It’s a really special event.

    Looks like a lot of fun and a great way to ring in the New Year! I had actually never heard of Hogmanay until all the bloggers went.

      Well then hopefully we’ve done a good job introducing you to it! 🙂

    I’ve seen a few pics in your other post, this event is already in my To-Do-Go list 🙂 Hope to see 2013 burn in fireworks this December 😉 I didn’t know about the Hogmanay Torchlight procession till now. Thanks for the story, Amanda!

      It’s not an event most people know about if it’s their first time at Hogmanay. The Street Party and concert/fireworks always seem to overshadow the rest of the events. But carrying a torch was one of my Hogmanay highlights for sure!

    So amazing! I’m sort of theoretically against the idea of a Bucket List – but if I had one, this would be on it! My sister-in-law is living in Edinburgh for the next few years, so I’m hoping to be able to participate one of these days!

      Sounds like you should definitely have a good excuse to be in Edinburgh for Hogmanay one of these years!

    I had a good chuckle at the exact same thing you did, the fact that in America we’d never be able to get away with an event like that. How sad for our countrymen. It was my favorite part of Hogmanay.

      How sad indeed! Then again, I’m not sure it would have the same amount of impact outside of Scotland… the US doesn’t quite have the same Viking ties!

    I think my favorite part of this whole torchlight procession deal is the fact that they actually burned an effigy of the year 2012.

    I don’t know what that says about me as a person, but there you go.

    The Scots really know how to welcome in the new year!!
    And at that time of year there’s a real need to do (virtually) anything to brighten up the long long nights (Its dark by 4 in the arvo!)
    So with 3 days of celebrations – Its one of the best places in the world to be –
    Happy New Year to you too!! 😉

      Yeah, there’s not a whole lot of daylight during the Scottish winter! But I would definitely go back for Hogmanay again – it was such an awesome experience!

    I can’t believe this is allowed! I hope there’s never any accidents so this tradition can keep going!

      Right?!? You’d never find anything like this in America. But I’m SO glad the tradition in ongoing in Scotland!

        Yeah. This year they canceled it because of “cost” and stuff.

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