Working late tonight in the bookstore we at least had the spectacle of the candlelit procession progressing along Princes Street in the dark of the winter night to distract us. Mostly children carrying flaming torches – my what a good idea, small kids with large, naked flames! – but also, for some bizarre reason, faux Vikings pulling a Longboat. Obviously the organisers of Edinburgh’s much vaunted Hogmanay celebrations have decided to pilfer ideas from the Orcadian Up-Hellya fire festival where, dressed as Viking warriors, the locals haul a Longboat they spent months building to the harbour then ceremoniously set it ablaze like a Norse king’s funeral.
This makes sense since the Orkneys have at least as much Viking ancestry as Celtic, if not more. What Vikings have to do with Edinburgh is beyond me. Being somewhat familiar with Scottish history I can tell you our Celtic ancestors spent most of their time fighting the Norsemen who kept raiding our lands, burning homes and ravaging the cattle. Well, at least until the Celts forced them to a proper battle at Largs, where they slaughtered them, chased them right into the surf and burned their boats. Brian Boru lead our brother Celts in Ireland to a similar victory at Clontarf. Vikings were one of histories great raiders, but they clearly were no match for enraged Celts in a proper fight. Must have been all that seal blubber ale slowing them down. Anyway, fair to say they have bugger all to do with Edinburgh or any Celtic winter ceremony, so it was all rather spurious. But then again, it looked great – men and young boys in home-made Viking costumes hauling a great Longboat by flickering torchlight, so who cares how historically innacurate it all is.
In the meantime the lights are strung across the bare, winter branches of the trees in Princes Street Gardens and the more garish lights of the carnival rides glow from the other side of the valley in front of the Bank of Scotlan’ds floodlit building on the Mound, in front of the medieval Old Town. In the Gardens, down in the valley the lights floodlight an open air skating rink, with the Victorian carousel above it going round, the painted horses glittering and kids skating on the ice – it’s all rather beautiful and great fun. Now having a damned good time to pass the long, dark winter nights of Caledonia, that is something our Celtic ancestors certainly did. Cheers :-).