The 12 people of Christmas

Edinburgh has been voted the best place in Britain to enjoy the festive season by new market research. Here, we meet the locals who help make the capital the in-place to celebrate:


EMMA RAFFERTY: We start getting a slow trickle of cards and parcels in the last two weeks of November, but the Christmas pressure starts about two weeks before Christmas Day. The number of letters and parcels we deal with is astronomical, and trying to deliver them in bad weather can be challenging. I love the atmosphere at Christmas, though. I've been doing this job for 15 years, and I've definitely noticed more parcels at Christmas time in recent years because more and more people are buying online. Things are incredibly busy, but we like to do everything we can to make sure that every card and present is delivered by Christmas Eve. Even if someone's not come to the office to collect a parcel, we'll try to redeliver it to make sure they get it. But we still get cards and parcels coming through well after Christmas, possibly because they've been sent late or the postcode is wrong. I always feel sad when I see them and hope it's not a child who's missed out. But then I suppose a late present might be a nice surprise!


JOHN SAUNDERSON When Christmas comes and it's more poultry than anything else it takes a bit of getting used to. Turkey is the most popular meat, but we get a lot of orders for goose and pheasant, and there have been a lot of requests for Scotch lamb. I just got an e-mail from a woman from France who's coming to Edinburgh and wanted Scotch beef for Christmas dinner and Scotch lamb for New Year's Day. In the two days before Christmas we get queues out the door, down the street and around the corner but there's always a great atmosphere. I had one customer say that he's not that bothered about the meat - he just comes for the banter in the queue!


Hide Ad

GEORGE BELL, MANAGER OF JENNERS ( We start planning quite early on, but when our tree goes up I think it signals the start of Christmas for quite a few families in the area. We source it from the Buccleuch Estate every spring and it takes 14 hours to put up overnight. We have people who come from all over the UK to see the tree and do their Christmas shopping with us. It's certainly a hectic time. In some days in December we can take the equivalent of a week's takings in February. There are all sorts of extra jobs, like wrapping all the presents for Santa's grotto. And I never fail to be amazed at how many people leave their Christmas shopping until the last minute!


SIMON HILL, head stylist at Sesh Hairdressing: Christmas is traditionally the busiest time for hairdressers, and it's also our favourite. The two weeks up to Christmas are chaotic. It's the one time of year when everyone sees all their family and friends, so they want to look their best. For a lot of people, getting ready is one of the rituals of Christmas. Even in the current climate, visiting the hairdresser seems to be one of the little luxuries people still allow themselves. For obvious reasons, January is the time for new styles. People get experimental and try out new looks and colours in the new year, but at Christmas people like to play it safe, and it's all about big blow dries this year. There's a great atmosphere. Everyone's in a good mood and we're rushed off our feet, which is exactly the way I like it.


ALAN JAMES McLEAN, Lothian bus driver: I've been a bus driver for eight years and I've worked every Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and Hogmanay - I love it. There is such a buzz working this time of year. There is a real festive spirit on Christmas Eve especially, and most people are in a great mood as they're going home to see their friends and loved ones. You get a lot of interaction from passengers on a daily basis, but on Christmas Eve everyone is on top form. I've even had the odd Christmas present from regular passengers who've boarded on Christmas Eve. Admittedly, you get the odd person who is suffering from the bah humbugs, but I always manage to make them smile - I haven't failed yet. From a driver's point of view, it comes down to being friendly, smiling at them and wishing them a merry Christmas. Every Christmas the buses seem busier with people laden with shopping bags from last-minute purchases to those coming off the train with their suitcases on their way home for the festive season. It's certainly not a chore to work on Christmas Eve and I like to think I'm part of this big team throughout the capital who help to create the best Christmas in the UK."


STEPHEN PATERSON of Hamilton and Inches ( I think our showroom was really made for Christmas. When it's all decorated there's something really special about the place. We serve champagne and mince pies, and have one of our craftsmen to talk about the pieces. I always find it magical. We've had our famous toy train filled with goodies in our window now for 21 years, and we have a train set inside, too. We encourage children to come in and steal sweeties from the carriages and we find that kids and their fathers love the train sets while their mothers love the jewellery, so there's something for everyone. The shop closes at 4pm on Christmas Eve, but we do get some very last-minute shoppers. One year, a guy came in at ten to four. I think he'd had a very merry lunch but he still needed to buy Christmas presents. I think he left happy …


KATRINA HOWELLS, florist and owner of Stems ( We start planning our Christmas designs in June because people place orders so far in advance, and at Christmas we're very busy with weddings and private home decorations. We've been doing it for 16 years, and it's lovely to help someone decorate their home for Christmas because it feels like a very personal thing, to bring the magic of Christmas and all those lovely scents and textures into their home. We start at the beginning of December doing wreaths for front doors and by the last week of the month we're doing Christmas table arrangements, napkin rings and candle arrangements. There's a lovely buzz at this time of year, and it's great to be a part of it.


AURORA WOODS ( I sell candles on a stall in the German market in Princes Street Gardens. They're a lovely thing to sell because there's no Christmas without candles, and everyone's in such a good mood at Christmas time, so there's a great atmosphere in the market. I'm working ten-hour days right up to Christmas Eve, then a group of us who all work at the market are going to spend Christmas Day together, which I'm really looking forward to. The weather's had a big effect on the markets this year. The snow makes everything look so pretty, but when it's been heavy things have been a lot quieter for us. Regardless, everyone's so full of Christmas cheer and Edinburgh people are so friendly that it makes the job really fulfilling. I'd say the only thing I don't like is the temperatures. I have to wear seven layers to keep warm!


Hide Ad

PHILIPPE MEYLAN, head chef at the Caves ( At Christmas there's at least 50 large turkeys, 300kg of potatoes and 200kg carrots, both of which need peeled. Then there's the 100kg of onions, and the 10kg of garlic. Christmas is undoubtedly the busiest time of the year for us and we have a non-stop diary - it's challenging to say the least. The team at The Caves actually starts planning the festive menus as early as January, so we can liaise with suppliers to ensure we have the finest locally sourced ingredients and all organic, where possible. Creating innovative Christmas menus when you've just taken down your decorations and are still suffering from the festive excesses is no mean feat, especially when the last thing on your mind is turkey.


ROBERT NORRIS, volunteer chef at the Grassmarket Community Project ( I've been homeless so I know what people are going through, and wanted to give something back. Christmas is very difficult when you're homeless; it's a time when people can contemplate suicide. Often they don't have anyone, or anywhere to go. I help to cook a Christmas dinner for them and we give them presents of gloves and socks. People are having so much fun that they forget that for some people this can be one of the hardest times of the year. It's a busy time for us because many people have nowhere to go.


Hide Ad

JOHN PUGH of events company Finix ( We look after Edinburgh's Christmas lights, and with over 200,000 lights in Princes Street Gardens alone, there's a lot of work involved. We put up the lights once, which took us a month, and now we maintain them year-round. There's always plenty to do, especially since we discovered that the squirrels have a taste for the wire. There are miles and miles of cabling involved, and some large trees take as much as 1,200m of lights. We use specially-designed expanding rubber straps to attach them to the trees, and we use LED lights, which use less energy and require less maintenance than standard lights. Clambering over branches with lights on them can be tricky and can damage the lights, so we have to meticulously plan the order in which we do the branches. It's a big job, but worth it when you see everything looking so spectacular.


CERI ROBERTSON, keeper at Edinburgh Zoo ( I usually work Christmas Day, but I don't mind it at all. Actually I quite enjoy the atmosphere. For the animals, it's just like any other day and they have to be looked after as usual, but we do put on a few special things for them. We'll give them toys and hang things up for them to play with. They enjoy it and so do the visitors. We're actually quite busy with visitors on Christmas Day, and I think it's a bit of a tradition for some people. We get a lot of fathers who bring their children along in the morning while the mums cook the Christmas lunch. For the keepers it's a great day, too. We'll have lunch together and then go home in the evening to see friends and family, so there are no complaints.