Gothic Architecture, Old Town Edinburgh

Scotland: A Very Merry Christmas in Edinburgh

Reading Time: 8 minutes

This post is part of the Wanderlust Travel Series.

by Lenna

This post is about the Christmas Festival I attended in Edinburgh, Scotland┬álast year. Which goes to show how prompt I am with my travel posts. ­čÖé

The Fatherland

Last year I wrote a post entitled, “Ireland: In the Motherland at last.”

I referred to Ireland as the “motherland” in that piece because my mother’s family traces back to Ireland. Likewise, my father’s family traces back to Scotland.

It’s as if this trip last year was a Christmastime journey to explore my ancestral roots though it wasn’t really.┬áTracing my roots has never been a big deal for me.

In fact, I long thought my surname was English. I once indicated that on a school paper and my parents were appalled at my ignorance.

“We have a Scottish name! Your dad’s people were Scottish!! We even have a family coat of arms!!!”

Why do people think you should just know things they’ve never even mentioned?

Overshadowed by Ireland

For some reason where I live, Ireland is a lot more popular and well-known than Scotland.

Is this because Ireland has inspired St. Patty’s Day?┬áOr Irish Spring soap? Green beer and fresh-smelling soap are a winning advertising strategy, it seems.

Edinburgh Castle

Scotland…hmm…What immediately comes to mind?

Scotch whiskey,┬áDavid Hume, and the Loch Ness Monster. That’s really about all I could think of before visiting Scotland, and I wasn’t even 100% sure about David Hume!

Did you know there are more redheads in Scotland than Ireland? Yet when we Americans think of redheads, they think Ireland. Same with kilts, bagpipes, castles, and so on.

I think Scotland is an amazing country that deserves its fair share of attention too.

Is Scotland a Country?

Scotland has a lovely blue and white flag of its own, but it’s more common to see the British flag flapping in the breeze. That seems strange to me.

The whole British thing is completely baffling. When I was a kid, I thought England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and the British Isles were all the same thing.

If it’s all the same, what did I think it was “united” with you may wonder. But I live in the “United States” and this is one country, so that wouldn’t strike me as odd.

Fortunately, in recent years, Twitter has come along to fill the gaps in my American education. ­čÖé

Geography Lesson

For my fellow Americans, a brief geography lesson before we proceed. Just to be sure we all know where and what “Scotland” actually is.

We’re dealing with a Venn diagram with mostly concentric circles. To make it easier, I’ll go from the smallest area to biggest.

First, there is England, which looks like about the bottom half of the main Island. The top part is Scotland and there is an even lesser-known part wedged in next to England called Wales.

Wales as in Welch, which like most Americans, I know even less about than Scotland. Welch’s jelly comes to mind and I don’t even know if that’s related.

Anyway, these three parts make up “Great Britain.” So far so good.

The next part is easy. You just add Northern Ireland, and now you have “The United Kingdom.” So when you refer to the “UK,” you could mean Scotland, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland to someone who lives in the region.

Add the rest of Ireland, and the whole collection is referred to as “The British Isles.”

So now we know where Scotland is, and how it fits into the picture. Sort of.

Brexit and Scottish Nationalism

As with Quebec in Canada, it seems the issue of independence resurfaces from time to time. I remember a few years ago wondering why Scotland gets to vote on independence but Northern Ireland does not (as far as I know).

Is this because the leaders believe Scotland will stay but Northern Ireland would leave? I know there was a long, bitter struggle over Ireland so maybe it’s still a sore spot?

It seems most recently, “Brexit” has somehow stirred up Scottish nationalism once again. I don’t understand all the nuance and details regarding “Brexit” either so I won’t go off on that tangent.

For travel purposes, you don’t need to sort all of that. I think it’s just good to have a general idea so you know what might be a touchy topic with the locals.

Whatever the official status of Scotland, you’re technically in the UK.

Tea in London?

When I was in Edinburgh, I contacted a friend in London I met on Twitter a few years ago. We should meet for tea!

I didn’t actually suggest meeting since I don’t like to put anyone on the spot. I just said, “hey, I’m here!” which did not result in an invitation to meet.

Apparently, being 300 miles away is not considered to be “in town for tea” in the UK.

Yet if I were in Chicago and someone from overseas contacted me from New York, I might very well suggest tea in Soho. Even though the cities are over 1000 miles apart.

Scotland is about the size of South Carolina, and England is only a little bigger than North Carolina. So keep in mind how people in these small countries perceive a “long distance” when you’re making plans.

Harry Potter Town

Before we arrived in Edinburgh, someone said it looks like the set of a Harry Potter movie. At first, I wondered why.

We took a bus from the airport, and it was only after we wound around in the streets and reached Old Town that I saw the resemblance.

This Old Town is breathtaking and completely unique. I expected Edinburgh to be another Dublin, but it really does have a character and style all its own.

What both cities have in common is loads of charm.

The Old Town district of Edinburgh is gorgeous. Photos don’t do it justice.

You must see it for yourself. Notice in the photo the darkly lovely buildings, nestled in the hills and cast against a mountain backdrop.

It’s nice in photos but stunning in person.

 

Hills

What do Rome, Mecca, Seatle, and Edinburgh have in common?

They’re all cities of seven hills. Lots of cities around the world claim to be cities of seven hills, which has become a thing, apparently, because of various references in the Bible.

People for whatever reason love to climb the muddy hills of Ireland and Scotland. I know because I wound up engaged in this activity in both countries where the ground was so soggy, even the upper runoff areas were muddy.

Even though the weather was chilly and gloomy and there are no bathrooms along the path, tons of people were out hiking the muddy hills together. A few people even slipped and fell, and the emergency medical services had to drag them down the hill for treatment.

Was it worth it? Yes, I think so. For those of us who made the climb safely because the view from the hilltops is spectacular.

Hilly cities are pretty. I think so anyway, and Edinburgh, in particular, knows how to show off its hills and valleys.

National Monument

There were also lots of people at the National monument. So many that you weren’t going to wait them out to get a people-free photo of your own.

Scotland National Monument

That turned out to be a good thing, I think. Because a few people in the photo really gives you an idea of the monument’s enormous size.

Situated on Calton Hill In Edinburgh, the National Monument of Scotland is a memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who perished in the Napoleonic Wars. The view from the hilltop was amazing.

Food and Drink

Haggis is the national dish of Scotland and it’s really unique.

Wikipedia describes the dish as, “savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck; minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach.”

What is “sheep’s pluck”? I’m not sure I want to know. ­čÖé

There is a small but growing population of Muslims in Scotland and I read the other day they’ve come up with a halal version of haggis. So if I ever make it there again, I’ll try it, insha’Allah.

For now, the only thing I remember consuming during my short stay in Edinburgh is a delicious latte. Good news fellow enthusiasts…Scotland has Starbucks. Awesome. ­čÖé

Golden Toes

Yes, Dave Hume was Scottish and you won’t forget that after you see the monument to him in Edinburgh. His toes stick out and people have rubbed them so much, inadvertently and on purpose, they shine in golden glory, set apart from the rest of the verdant brass.

Golden Toe, Edinburgh

Hume was born in Edinburgh. He was an economist, diplomat, and Enlightenment philosopher. Though I’m familiar only with his work in philosophy, which relates in interesting ways to the Muslim philosophers of Andalusia.

I would like to write a post all its own on Enlightenment philosophers and how the Muslims influenced their work. For now, I’ll avoid that tangent and instead mention Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

Famous “Americans”

Bell was also born in Edinburgh and I find that fascinating because I was sure he was American! You may wonder why I keep admitting to my ignorance and the reason is that I find it fascinating.

I have a master’s degree from an American university, and yet there are so many things I never learned in school. Travel has really brought to light for me how America-centric the worldview of most Americans truly is.

Americans should to travel more and realize that a lot of things we subsume as “ours” really came from other places.┬áFor most Americans, Sean Connery is the face of Scotland, along with the Loch Ness Monster. ­čÖé

While we’re on the subject,┬á did you know that Adam Smith, J.K. Rowling, and the guy who discovered penicillin are also Scottish? Don’t laugh, British people.

America is a big country in a very influential season of history, so we’re myopic. Not dumb, as stereotypes suggest.

What’s that Black Thing?

There’s a gothic-looking black thing that dominates part of the city you’ll probably find yourself drawn to investigate.

This distinctive landmark is the Scott Monument. Inside you’ll see a statue of the novelist, poet, playwright and historian, Sir Walter Scott, and his dog Maida, glowing white in a marble chair.

This is a distinctive feature of the city you can hardly miss.

I read somewhere recently that the monument was cleaned up and is no longer black. The sandstone is exposed and you can see it’s true color, apparently.

I thought it looked cool when it was black from a distance, and the sandstone only showed through when you were close up. Either way, it’s eye-catching.

 

The Christmas Festival

We didn’t actually come to Edinburgh for the Christmas Festival but it was a major attraction, so we decided to check it out.

Scottish Christmas Festival
View of the festival and the Scott Monument.

The festival is free for everyone and drew a pretty good crowd. We spent most of our time there munching on pastries and marveling at how lovely the city is from various vantage points.

The advantage of visiting at this time of year is the flights and hotels are cheaper, and the tourist attractions are less crowded. It’s also somewhat cold and gloomy, but certainly less brutal than a typical winter in Chicago.

I went there around Christmas piggybacking off a friend’s business travel to Dublin. I’ve also been to Ireland in both winter and summer, and I think these countries are lovely to visit any time of year.

Conclusion

Even if you’ve seen a lot of European cities, you’ll find Edinburgh has loads of charm and a distinctive style all its own.

As I said previously in this post, Scotland is a lovely country that I think deserves more attention and appreciation.

After spending time in Dublin and Edinburgh, we were craving warmth and sunshine. So we said “until we meet again” to Scotland and took a bargain flight to Malta.