I asked a young personable colleague, the only other person in the office today, what he was doing for New Year, or Hogmanay as we call it up here, also known as a further tourist opportunity in the darkest days of a Scottish winter.
"We're having a quiet one," he said and went on to echo my thoughts about the general awfulness of New Year – the forced jollity and celebration, the crowds in the streets getting pissed, pubs charging you to enter, the general nastiness of it.
I really enjoy Christmas. It has traditions, it has good food, it has great music, it has lights and colour and behind it a pagan idea of new birth in the bleakest of seasons. But is there one decent song for New Year? It's a date on the calendar, that's all. The Chinese make more of a thing of it, and seem to celebrate it with some style, but here it's just another excuse for a piss-up. And in Britain, we need no such excuses.
(Re Christmas music - Here's a picture I took with my phone of what ice can do to a fence on a hilltop in the Pentlands last Sunday. On our way down we started singing Good King Wenceslas. A teenaged girl walking uphill with her dad joined in:- "Gathering Winter Fu-u-el." )
Christmas was not a public holiday in Scotland until 1958. The overtones of Catholicism made it uncomfortable for Presbyterians and so they celebrated New Year instead, with drinking and dancing. And in some country parts it is still celebrated with first footing and as a celebration in a community that works. A friend of mine who lived in a little Highland town said he would spend Hogmanay on the move, whisky bottle in hand, walking past his own flat but never entering it for four days together. In each house they visited they were revived with soup.
Nowadays the Scots celebrate Christmas like everyone else, but still have those two days off at New Year. When younger I remember the pubs being too crowded for a drink and then shutting early and we'd traipse round the streets waiting for something, anything to happen. But in Tron Square, where we gathered, the bells didn't even ring at midnight. So we hung around, then some ripple in the crowd – perhaps someone had a radio – told us it was new year, and random people kissed you – and by the look of them, and the smell of them, that was the one close bodily contact they were going to get all year.
So the Edinburgh Council, always stalking the tourist pound. thought to organise actual celebrations since people arrived in Edinburgh for Hogmanay anyway, no matter that nothing happened. Now they have torch-light processions and concerts i.e. outdoor activities at a time of the year when it rains, snows, blows or the temperature drops below zero. If someone told me – go out in winter with minimum public transport to be snogged by drunken strangers I'd say no thanks. It makes no difference that it's 31 December.
Once a colleague passed me on some tickets that she couldn't use for the concert in Princes Street Gardens. They had cost her £35 each and I asked a friend to come. We were sitting in the pub while the wind howled and screamed and were getting ready, with utmost reluctance to go out in it, so as not to waste the £35. And the relief when we were told the concert was cancelled, so we could honourably slump back in our chairs and my colleague could get a refund. We had no desire to go to an outdoor concert in winter – no sane person would. Still, there it is, forced celebration.
So I wish everyone a prosperous New Year with drinks and celebration, if that's your style. As for me, I'm having a quiet one.