On Monday night the 2016 Edinburgh Festival came to a close with the traditional Edinburgh Festival Fireworks (known locally as the end of festival fireworks and officially as the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert).
The Edinburgh Festival Fireworks – the city comes together
In Edinburgh, this concert is probably one of the key community events of the year. Locals love to faux-grumble about the festival, but actually love it. Never the less, there is a collective sigh of relief at the end. If Glasgow is the party animal of Scotland, Edinburgh is the bookish older sibling which prefers afternoon tea to all nighters. More of a quiet pint in the pub than a heavy night on the tiles. You need only look at the proliferation of musicians to come out of Glasgow and the comparable number of authors who hail from Edinburgh to see this trend played out.
Yet the Festival is the one time when we embrace our status as the epicentre of world culture (or hide, as the ever perceptive Daily Mash wrote about)
In truth, most locals adopts a similar strategy to the Festival;
- Pick a day or couple of days which they plan to become tourists on.
- Choose the shows which they wish to see in advance and book them.
- Go, have a great time, happily take every flyer on offer, join in the spontaneity, pay £10 for a burger and make friends with an up and coming stand up whose show “Thundering Spud Monkey” will be the next big thing.
- At all other times, avoid the part of the city North of the Meadows and South of Queen Street as if it were a quarantine zone for Zombies.
But an interesting thing happens at the end of the Festival. On every bit of public space with a view of the castle people gather to watch the Edinburgh Festival fireworks.
The communal experience.
I don’t know if this is unique to Edinburgh but the entire 45 minute explosive concert is set to music and broadcast on local radio station Forth One, which means anyone with a radio, anywhere in the city can be part of a collective, city wide interactive concert. Even if you don’t have your own radio, it’s almost a guarantee that someone nearby will have one. In popular spots, the soundtrack is built from a cumulation of tens of radios dotted across the area, providing an almost organic, ambient level of city wide music.
Some people are pros, bringing blankets, picnics, sleeping bags and the like. Others just tough it out in a t-shirt. To those visiting the city, it is a closing ceremony. To those living in the city if is both a massive thank you from the Festival organisers and something more abstract than that; it is the turn of the year.
The start of Autumn
The fireworks, coming at the end of August/start of Sept, seem to represent the end of summer. As soon as they are over, the leaves seem to rattle a bit more in the trees, the world turn a bit more earthen. Edinburgh is probably at its best in the Autumn. If ever you were looking for somewhere to really embrace the Scandinavian idea of “hygge” then this glorious city is the place to be. So the fireworks really act as a sort of pagan solstice for us, marking the move towards Christmas and the even bigger party of Hogmanay (and more fireworks of course).
Top tips for those planning on watching the Edinburgh Festival Fireworks in future
- Yes, the best views of the whole show are going to be the Princes Street Gardens, but that costs money and is busier than a rugby club on “free pie day”. You can stand on the streets facing the castle, like Princes Street (I hear outside Boots is a prime spot) or Hanover Street too but you’ll need to be there early for it.
- A better option we think is to head to one of the grassy hilly parks – specifically, Blackford Hill, Braids Hills or Inverleith Park (on the banking beside the duck pond). The latter offers the best view of the full display.
- Get there early to bag a spot, bring warm clothes, a picnic blanket or chairs if you want and possibly a thermos.
- If you’ve got a basic battery radio, bring it along and tune in. Everyone around you will appreciate being able to hear the music.
- Enjoy being part of something amazing – basically it’s a bit like that bit in Harry Potter where Dumbledore pops his clogs and everyone uses their wands to make a massive glowy light of hope. We may be reading into this too much.