Column: Why only the tills jingle at Edinburgh’s Christmas market

Pic: Ian Rutherford
Pic: Ian Rutherford

There was a time when Edinburgh’s Christmas celebrations were genuinely magical.

The very first markets in Princes Street Gardens were a joy to visit, but the bigger the whole programme gets, the more sterile it feels .

Watching teams of workmen erecting scaffolding across the gardens was a reminder that the same old market selling the same old over-priced tat is almost upon us.

And this year it is going to be even bigger with more stalls shoehorned into an area that is increasingly being viewed as a commercial asset by Edinburgh City Council rather than a much loved place to step away from the bustle of Prince Street.

As a kid I’d often meet my dad, who worked at Register House, and we’d go putting during his lunch hour.

Entire summer days could be spent in the gardens – exploring, playing, enjoying an ice cream, and all of it just yards from the train station.

The putting green disappeared years ago as Edinburgh woke up to the commercial possibilities the gardens offered, and got dazzled by the £ signs.

I’m old enough to remember when Hogmanay in Edinburgh city centre meant hanging round The Tron for an hour before going on to a party.

Sure, times change, but I’ll argue with anyone that the city’s “world famous” Hogmanay celebrations are laughably over-rated and ridiculously over-hyped ... and I’ll also resign myself to the noise of the commercial juggernaut roaring through the city drowning out my words.

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When the Christmas market first launched, it was fantastic – it was something new, something different,

It enhanced the gardens.

But with every passing year, the glitter falls from decorations, and we see it for what it is. A money-spinner.

In recent years, it has felt stale, repetitive and over-priced.

You see stalls selling the same products from the same pitch every hundred yards or so – oh look, someone else flogging candles floating in fake snow!

The prices are borderline rip-off – I once paid £8 for a waffle! – and the sense you are simply browsing tat grows with every visit.

Underbelly, the company which delivers the city’s festive celebrations says it now relies heavily on the stalls, fairground rides and bars to prop up the Hogmanay festival .

Without it, then everything would have to be scaled back.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

Edinbugh’s Christmas has turned into a £150m cash cow, but the more it generates, the more the organisers and city want, and so it packs in more gluwhein stalls with every passing year.

What if it did less – but did it better?

Maybe we need to go back to the beginning and see what worked, and how it can be updated for 2020 and beyond to create the ultimate festive ‘experience.’

The capital cannot keep bulging to accommodate everything. It is already beyond saturation point – something has to give.

Edinburgh has a stunning city landscape. Let’s use it properly, and respectfully, and still put on a show with a genuine wow factor.