Christmas in Edinburgh: a celebration of community

Well coordinated Christmas planning can prove positive for community engagement and local authority finances. Ruth Fisher, producer of Edinburgh’s Christmas, discusses the Christmas infrastructure across Scotland’s capital city centre, looking at the successes of the event

Edinburgh is a city world renowned for its year-round festivals, so you can be assured that Christmas isn’t a low-key affair here. Together with the UK’s leading New Year celebration, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, Edinburgh’s Christmas is one half of the Scottish capital’s Winter Festivals brightening the winter nights for residents and attracting visitors from across Scotland, the UK and the world. The event brings significant economic benefits for the city and its businesses.

As a city with world heritage status, Edinburgh is unparalleled in its beauty, with a gothic old town and a Georgian New Town. The Christmas attractions are situated across the heart of the city, affording breath taking interactions with Edinburgh’s famous landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle and the Scott Monument. In 2017, this goes a step further through the development of the relationship with the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology which will showcase the city’s architecture and heritage.

Festive lighting
A major aspect to any city’s Christmas celebrations around the world is its festive lighting. For the past two years in Edinburgh one of the featured attractions has been the Street of Light. A stunning light installation, using 60,000 light bulbs, which lit up both Edinburgh’s old town on the Royal Mile in 2015 and its new town in George Street the subsequent year.

Working closely with the adjacent businesses to ensure the impact of the installation was positive, Street of Light gave us a significant focal point around which to engage community music and dance groups and develop a sense of involvement and pride and ownership in Edinburgh’s Christmas celebrations.

One of Underbelly’s key priorities since being awarded the Christmas contract four years ago has been to expand the event into further areas of the city centre. This ensures that as wide a spread of businesses as possible have the opportunity to benefit from having official Christmas celebrations and added footfall on their doorstep.

Although Street of Light proved a huge success, this year Edinburgh’s Christmas will announce a new feature for 2017, offering residents and visitors to the city a new, exciting and very different festive experience.

The sense of scale and the highly visible attractions across Princes Street Gardens, Festival Square, George Street and St Andrew Square may appear to some as centred around commercial activities, with the European Christmas markets, the fairground rides and the opportunity to take a spin on the UK’s only elliptical ice rink.

But first and foremost Christmas is a time of community, family and sharing, and it is important to us that this ethos is embedded in the event in order to resonate genuinely at that time of year, particularly with residents. There are several events and installations across Edinburgh’s Christmas which seek to engage local communities offering them ways to become involved and celebrate their creativity and valued communities together.

Light night
Light Night, the switching on of Edinburgh’s Christmas lights, is the largest celebration of Edinburgh’s residents and an opportunity for creative communities to showcase their talents to an audience of thousands of spectators as the festive season gets underway. Where the pinnacle moment is a well known face switching on Edinburgh’s Christmas Lights, the heart of the event is the hundreds of amateur dance groups and singers from all manner of local choirs singing everything from Christmas carols to rock favourites to a massive crowd of thousands of their friends, families and visitors. Stages are erected along George Street and fireworks launched from Charlotte Square in a celebration which brings thousands into Edinburgh’s city centre for the occasion.

Another celebration of Edinburgh’s younger artists is through Winter Windows. For the last three years school children across the city have been encouraged to create designs for a ‘stained glass’ window with the 25 winning windows being showcased in Princes Street Gardens alongside the Christmas Market. This competition, a local favourite run in partnership with National Galleries Scotland, will expand this year to offer more children the opportunity to see their work in lights and stretch out the effects of Edinburgh’s Christmas to less central areas of the city.

An attractive visit
Very deliberate work in broadening the reach and profile of the event has led to a 46 per cent increase in ticket sales from 2013 to 2016. Furthermore, 57 per cent of visitors in 2016 were from other parts of Scotland and the UK, compared to 43 per cent in 2015 and 38 per cent in 2013. In 2016, the event received visitors from 64 countries. It has also been shown to continuously bring in new audiences, with a third of its visitors each year attending for the first time.

In building a strong brand and customer loyalty to the event, there has also been an increase in the retention rate amongst attenders. In 2016, a massive 94 per cent of local audiences had attended in previous years, and 70 per cent of audiences overall. Multiple visits have risen from 40 per cent in 2014 to 65 per cent in 2016.

These positive figures demonstrate the increasing success of Edinburgh’s Christmas for both the residents and businesses in the city. In 2016, 33 per cent of non-Edinburgh residents cited Edinburgh’s Christmas as their only reason for visiting the city, compared to 25 per cent in 2014. For 58 per cent of non-Edinburgh residents, it was their only or main reason. Additionally, 76 per cent of Edinburgh residents cited Edinburgh’s Christmas as their only reason for visiting, and 96 per cent their only or main reason, compared with 38 per cent and 73 per cent respectively in 2013.

Footfall in the city centre was up 5.1 per cent in December, whilst the UK average dropped 2.6 per cent. The number of commercial stayers in Edinburgh grew from 68 per cent in 2014 to 79 per cent in 2016. The economic impact for 2016 is expected to exceed the incredible £119 million reported in the 2014 survey, and this is spend by non-Edinburgh residents only.

It has been key to build Edinburgh’s profile as a winter destination and to expand the city’s offer leading up to Hogmanay. The strategy is succeeding dramatically with each year seeing considerable visitor records and increasing positive impact on residents and businesses in the city.

Over the next three years, drawing on our experience and new ideas, we will continue to raise the bar, becoming the winter destination to rival all others, and continuing to create a positive impact on and sense of pride in the residents and businesses of Edinburgh.

Details of this year’s programme will be announced on the Edinburgh’s Christmas website on Tuesday 19 September.

Underbelly Christmas: Street of Light

Further Information:

Event Diary


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