An Edinburgh Christmas market solution: Festival park at the airport – Joe Goldblatt

Edinburgh Christmas market has proved controversial, but popular this year (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Edinburgh Christmas market has proved controversial, but popular this year (Picture: Neil Hanna)
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Edinburgh could set up an all-year-round festival park near the airport or on the waterfront to help ease problems related to the Christmas market and over-tourism in the city, writes Professor Joe Goldblatt.

My adopted city of Edinburgh had a tumultuous history with the yule season before finally embracing Christmas as a major annual celebration.

After all, in 1640 the Scottish Parliament officially abolished the celebration of Christmas and it was not until 1871 that Christmas became a public holiday in Scotland and it took until 1974 for Boxing Day to become an official holiday.

Therefore, some may suggest that one of the reasons we see George Street decked with Christmas garlands in September may be because we have a lot of catching up to do as compared with our southern and other European neighbours.

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The recent controversy regarding the 2019 Edinburgh Christmas design for Princes Street Gardens as envisioned by Underbelly Productions and approved in principle by some of Edinburgh council's leaders risks allowing one planning challenge to undermine a very important and successful celebration for our city.

Whilst it is important to protect, preserve and sustain the unique historic assets that create our quality of place and allow Edinburgh to enjoy our World Heritage designations, it is also critically important to find opportunities during the dark winters to come together and celebrate our common humanity as well as generate much needed economic stimulus for our city and country.

An effective tourism plan
I believe that in future years the challenge that was encountered this year in the run-up to Edinburgh’s Christmas may be avoided through better strategic planning opportunities and activities as now being developed through the Edinburgh 2030 Tourism Draft Plan that is now available for consultation.

This draft plan, in my opinion, effectively addresses issues such as quality of place, people, environmental sustainability and reputation.

One additional opportunity we may wish to consider is the establishment of a permanent, year-round, festival park site as part of the future development of the Edinburgh waterfront or, alternatively, near the Edinburgh International Airport.

This new site would not preclude the opportunity to properly decorate the city centre, nor would it require moving all activities outwith Princes Street and George Street. However, it could help ease the congestion and strain upon city services as well as further stimulate economic development for Leith as well as the western suburbs.

One key component of the establishment of any permanent festival park site would be the planning and incorporation of frequent, inexpensive and high-quality transport from the city centre to these additional sites.

The use of a hub-and-spoke approach for decentralising some of our Edinburgh’s Christmas activities may, in fact, attract even more folk who wish a more relaxed and open environment for celebrating the yuletide period and allow them to avoid the congestion of our busy downtown corridor.

Keeping the Grinch at bay
An English clergyman, as recorded by 19th-century Scottish antiquarian Robert Jamieson, was scathing about Scotland’s abolition of Christmas celebration after the Reformation: “The ministers of Scotland, in contempt of the holy-day observed by England, cause their wives and servants to spin in open sight of the people upon Yule day, and their affectionate auditors constrain their servants to yoke their plough on Yule day, in contempt of Christ's nativity. Which our Lord has not left unpunished, for their oxen ran wild, and break their necks and lamed some ploughmen, which is notoriously known in some parts of Scotland."

I am confident that our city which gave birth to the Scottish Enlightenment and subsequently invented a modern economy will once again come together to find the solutions to reduce the likelihood that the Grinch might just try and once again steal Edinburgh’s Christmas because of too much short-term thinking.

The last time I checked, Christmas comes around every year and some have observed that it now actually appears sooner and lasts longer than ever before.

Therefore, whilst we may sometimes think that we do not need a little Christmas now, in fact, we do need a lot of future Christmas planning as soon as possible to avoid mistakes in the future and keep the Grinch away from our annual and world acclaimed, Edinburgh’s Christmas celebration.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University and the author, co-author and editor of 38 books in the field of tourism and events management.