“It’s Chriii-iiistmaaa-aaas!” Noddy Holder of the 1970s glam-rock band Slade famously bellows during the ubiquitous-at-this-time-of-year song Merry Christmas Everybody.
Actually, Noddy, I don’t need you to tell me it’s Christmas. I knew it was Christmas when I woke this morning with my head and body suffering the effects of a lengthy alcohol and food binge the day before on December 25th. This morning I had that particularly Christmassy feeling of never, ever wanting to see another glass of red wine again.
And what Christmas presents had I just received from my family? Why, no fewer than five bottles of red wine.
Anyway, a few evenings ago, I found myself wandering along Edinburgh’s Princes Street and admiring the sight of its Christmas attractions; which formed an bright, colourful and, as the evening darkened, an ever-more jewelled and phantasmagorical spectacle across Princes Street Gardens below. These included a Ferris wheel, carousel, maze, helter-skelter, rollercoaster, ice rink and miniature train. Mind you, the most gorgeous feature of the scene was the full moon that hovered above North Bridge, to the right of the Balmoral Hotel’s Victorian clock-tower. I managed finally to snap a picture of it all, although it was difficult to find a good vantage spot – the best places for taking photos seemed to be crowded with Chinese tourists taking selfies.
It feels far removed from how Christmas was regarded in Scotland just a couple of generations ago. From the 16th century, Christmas’s celebration had been discouraged by the Scottish Presbyterian Church on the grounds that there was no basis for it in the scriptures. This lack of church approval, it’s said, was what helped to make Hogmanay so popular in Scotland – as there wasn’t really a Christian festival going on in the middle of winter that provided an excuse to knock back a few drinks, you could at least knock them back at the secular end of the old year / beginning of the new one. Indeed, Christmas Day didn’t become a national holiday in Scotland until 1958 and Boxing Day, so necessary for sleeping off the effects of that Christmas-Day over-indulgence, didn’t become one until 1974.
Well, now that the influence of Presbyterianism has waned, it’s all different. I’m sure the sight of these glitzy and downright bacchanalian Christmas festivities in Princes Street Gardens would send John Knox, the Scottish Kirk’s beardy, frowny old founder, birling in his grave. Indeed, he’d probably have drilled his way to China by now.
Incidentally, I also noticed that, just in time for the release of the new Star Wars movie, the Walter Scott Monument seems to have acquired its own light-sabre.