Edinburgh's Hogmanay: Torchlight Procession

Submitted by edg on Tue, 15 Nov '22 10.00am
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Edinburgh's Hogmanay torchlight procession heading down the Royal Mile
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The Torchlight Procession - cancelled in 2022 - is the opening event in the annual Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations with thousands of torchbearers creating a "river of fire" through the city streets. While, historically, it has not been as big as Edinburgh's Hogmanay Street Party, around 40,000 people have come out for the event, to watch and take part.

The Hogmanay Torchlight Procession 2022 is not going ahead under new Edinburgh's Hogmanay organiser Unique Assembly "due to the current economic climate, and the drop in available funding". The organiser added: “We very much hope to bring back the torchlight procession to the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme in 2023.”

The event was also cancelled in 2020 and cancelled again in 2021 due to pandemic restrictions, days before the Hogmanay festival was due to take place.

For now here are the details for the planned Torchlight Procession of 2021, organised by Underbelly:

River of Fire

The Torchlight Procession 2021 starts from three points or "zones"  - Waverley Bridge, Bristo Square, as well as outside St Giles Cathedral (West Parliament Square) - and streams down to Holyrood Park.

At the park, Procession participants light a candle which eventually forms a large image over the course of the event.

Fire illuminations 

Along the procession route, flames and light installations illuminate the experience. Fire-brandishing warrior troupe PyroCeltica, who led the procession in 2019, wield fire fans, claymores and fire staffs. Double Take Projections is the other creative partner. 

Holyrood Park offers good vantage points to watch the torches blazing down the street. The event is free to watch, but only those carrying a £15 torch can take part in the procession. The torches themselves are wax-based, like a big candle.

Background and evolution of the Torchlight Procession

Prior to 2017, the Torchlight Procession, under organiser Unique Events. took a different route from the High Street, down the Mound, along Princes Street, led by the Up Helly Aa vikings and accompanied by the pipes and drums of both traditional and contemporary outfits.

The pipes and drums component included the likes of the Dhol Drummers, the Erskine, Stewart's Melville and Coalburn Pipe Bands, the Sativa Drummers, She-Boom, the Coalburn Silver Band, the Impact Drumming Group, the Gutty Slippers and Commotion.

The torchbearers ended the procession and enjoyed fireworks in the Son et Lumière on Calton Hill.

The idea of having three separate starting points for the torchlight procession was introduced by new Hogmanay organisers Underbelly in 2017. The procession started from three points or "zones" in Edinburgh's Old Town - North Bridge, South Bridge, as well as outside St Giles Cathedral - and streamed down to Holyrood Park.  

At Holyrood Park, torchbearers spelled out the Scots word "braw". The word was voted most popular in a competition by young people. In 2018, torchbearers drew a giant map in fire of Scotland to mark the end of Scotland’s Year of Young People, and 14 wicker sculptures were placed together inside the map to form a heart-shape, representing "a collective national youth voice". The following year, torch-bearers formed a huge image of two people shaking hands, reflecting the year's Hogmanay theme "Be Together".

Torch inflation

In 2019, torches increased from £13 to £14 and wristbands cost £3 in advance. In 2021 the ticket and torch increased to £15 (plus £1 booking fee).

The event is not recommended for under-5s (although there is no age restriction) and buggies are not allowed.

Vouchers are available online, from the Hogmanay Box Office and other Hogmanay ticket outlets.

Hot Wax

Organisers point out that when burning the wax torches may drip:

"Safety guards are supplied to protect Ticket Holders from hot wax. Please note, when windy the wax from the torches can be blown onto clothing. Whilst easily removable (top tip – an iron and brown paper) please dress appropriately and do not carry torches if wearing delicate fabrics."