With many a deadline looming over us and the sun now barely showing face over the horizon, I feel like it’s time to admit that we’re well and truly coming into the throes of winter here at St Andrews. And while the tail end of the year is often a bummer for those of us with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—vitamin D deficiency is not a joke, Jim—these seasonal blues can be alleviated by the golden glow of fairy lights, cups of chai to warm your hands, and the knowledge that it’s almost time to defrost Mariah Carey. Winter is a gorgeous time of year in Scotland—but for those not from the country, it can often come as a bit of a shock to deal with the sun setting while you’re still sat in a seminar room debating whether or not Nick was infatuated with Gatsby (or whatever English Literature students talk about). As a new arrival to the town this year, I was delighted to see that the festive lights were hung all around Market Street as soon as Halloweekend was over and done with; it really made a difference in brightening up the town while the nights seem to grow exponentially longer.
But St Andrews’ lights, while cute in their own small-towny way, can’t hold a candle to the festivities put on by Scotland’s larger cities. Take the capital, for example: Edinburgh is famous for going above and beyond to make the city look like something straight out of a fairy tale, and the festive season is no exception. The traditional Christmas lights switch-on event, dubbed Light Night, is back in a new way this year, after being sorely missed in 2020 due to COVID-19. It normally features pyrotechnics and live music as part of the event; however, these have unfortunately been scaled back this year as Rona persists. Rather, this Light Night will feature the illumination of cascading snowflakes on The Mound—the grassy slope in the city centre that connects the New Town with the Old Town: a cracking photo opp for those so inclined.
If Christmas markets are more up your street, there’s no place better in the country to visit than Edinburgh’s famed Christmas market. I’m sure you’ve all seen the Instagram posts from years gone by of Princes Street illuminated by the glow of dozens of independent market stalls, but— and don’t call it gatekeeping—I think it’s something you’ve got to see in person to fully appreciate.
The Edinburgh Christmas market, which began 19 November and runs until 1 January, is located slap bang in the middle of the Princes Street Gardens, less than a ten-minute walk from Waverley Station. The market features dozens of vendors selling everything from artisan snacks and mulled wine, to handmade candles and stylish purses. There genuinely is something for everyone, and I’ve found it’s a wonderful place to get the bulk of your Christmas shopping done.
Edinburgh’s Christmas market is particularly special, as it also features a host of activities to get stuck in. There’s a Christmas tree maze, also nestled in Princes Street Gardens— just think how chaotic that would be with your pals after one too many mulled wines—and fairground rides such as bumper cars and spinning teacups. And I can’t forget the pièce de résistance of the whole market, the Big Wheel: almost as fun as the London Eye, but without the view of a Tory parliament. The Big Wheel gives you a 360-degree view of the markets, and you can see farther afield towards Fountainbridge and up towards the Castle, too. I’d definitely recommend giving it a go if you plan on heading to the capital this festive season. While Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, isn’t hosting any Christmas markets this year—I think the Glaswegians need to physically and emotionally recover from COP26— the city is playing host to Scotland’s largest ice rink. Stream Blades of Glory (2007), rent some skates, and hop on over to the city’s West End Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to immerse yourself in an icy winter wonderland.
If you’re keen for something a bit closer to home, Dundee’s festive celebrations promise to be a treat; they’ve got a massive lights display, their very own Big Wheel on the Tay waterfront, as well as a Christmas village filled with independent shops and food stalls. And for under a fiver for a return ticket from St Andrews bus station, I think Dundee’s a cracking destination to help get you in the festive spirit. Festivities run from 26 November to 2 January, and lights- on events span 19 – 21 November. There’s always plenty to keep yourself occupied within the central belt as the festive season rolls around, so definitely consider picking out one of these destinations for a wee trip to destress and kick off the arrival of winter.