Christmas, or Xmas for non-believers, used to be a quiet period in Edinburgh. Not anymore. Although it's still not quite as mad as the hurlyburly of the Edinburgh Festival in August, it's a busy time particulary during the 3-day Edinburgh's Hogmanay festivities.
Edinburgh's Christmas is a package of Yuletide themed events running from late November, around St Andrew's Day, to early January as the Hogmanay celebrations come to an end. Together with Burns Night at the end of January, they make up "Edinburgh's Winter Festivals".
Edinburgh's Christmas was first launched at the turn of the millennium Hogmanay celebrations. Since 1999, it has expanded to include an ever-growing range of events, from Christmas Light Night to Edinburgh pantomimes and Christmas shows.
Deck the streets
Thousands of people turn out at the end of November for the switch-on of the Christmas lights on Edinburgh Christmas Light Night.
If you can't make the festival opener, don't worry. You won't miss the brightly lit giant Christmas tree from Norway which is erected at the top of the Mound, and George Street and Princes Street are decked with faerie lights and yuletide decorations.
There's also Community Christmas, a new element in Edinburgh's Christmas 2019, which sees 12 locally significant buildings across Edinburgh lit up with festive projections over 12 consecutive nights. A different local choir will perform festive tunes at each half-hour event.
Another innovative element, is the Night Walk for Edinburgh, a multimedia, mystery tour through Edinburgh's Old Town by artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Book a walking slot, grab headphones and screen from the Fruitmarket Gallery, and follow the directions. It's free.
Rides include the Starflyer ride whirling around at 60 metres above the ground, the iconic Big Wheel that rises and falls beside the Scott Monument, a Christmas Tree Maze, rollercoaster, Santa Train, reindeer merry-go-round, and various other family attractions. Tickets range in price from free to £8.50 (for the Starflyer).
How many Santas make Christmas? Well, there's no lack of portly, white-bearded chaps and, for that matter, ladies hitting the ground for the Edinburgh Santa Run.
Meanwhile, naughty and nice children can find a more sedate Santa at Santa's Grotto on Castle Street (booking advised). There's also an (adult-friendly) helter skelter ride, bumper cars, and hot drinks on Castle Street.
Pantos and Christmas Shows
Baby Loves Disco Christmas Glitterball is back at the Assembly Rooms' Ballroom (1pm & 3.30pm) with nostalgic dance numbers, play, and an appearance by Santa.
Pantomime at the theatre is as traditional as mince pies around the tree at this time of year. Levity and fantasy are the order of the day, often with cross-dressing and updated, comical versions of traditional fairytales. Read EdinburghGuide.com's current Edinburgh pantomime and Christmas reviews (and earlier round-ups here from 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009).
On 18th November, there's the Scottish Norwegian Advent Concert at 7.00pm in St Giles Cathedral.
On 1st December 2019, there's a (free) traditional Nativity Carol Service on the Mound at 3pm. Tom Chalk's nativity scene, a realistic interpretation of the biblical Christmas scene that the artist was commissioned to do in 2003, will be assembled under the Norwegian Christmas Tree.
Christmas Market: Smell the glühwein
The Christmas Market returns to East Princes Street Garden with crafty goods for sale and seasonal fare to nosh on from 10am – 10pm, 7 days a week. It's free to enter.
Calculations for previous years are that over 200,000 individual bulbs light up Edinburgh’s Christmas, with over 10 kilometres of cabling.
To some extent Edinburgh's weather dictates the success of these christmas events. If we're lucky the city is crispy chilled and dry. But it can be dreich, windy and wet.
Discount on tickets
Ticket prices vary for different attractions. Some are free, but for those that are paid, EH residents can claim a 20% reduction.
Ice Rink No More
Edinburgh's Christmas has had two ice rinks in previous years. The first was the Winter Wonderland ice-rink in East Princes Street Gardens. It was a small circuit rink, prone to get wet from melt-water during mild winters, but still fun.
St Andrew Square hosted a mini "elliptical" ice rink allowing you to skate around the Melville monument. Business group Essential Edinburgh, who manage the Square, said it could no longer accommodate the ice rink due to the size and scale of the rink.
In 2016, organisers Underbelly introduced a tunnel of faerie lights installation called Street of Light. In 2018, it returned with the addition of a silent street party called Silent Light, where participants could choose from three separate playlists and, listening on headphones, dance under the archways.