New Years Eve in Scotland is called “Hogmanay,” and is one of the oldest New Year celebration traditions in the world. The city of Edinburgh hosts a three day celebration, starting with a torchlight procession through the city and ending the morning of January first with the "Loony Dook," where the locals swim in the freezing waters to help cure their hangovers.
I like to travel without a real sense of itinerary; so that I may let my wandering be my guide and be open to experiencing something with the locals who, I've discovered, tend to lead me on the most interesting experiences in their native cities. So I befriended some students from the University of Edinburgh and together we braved the massive crowds and freezing temperatures and made our way to the street party where we would be able to watch the fireworks light up Edinburgh's unique castle that sits above the city on a dormant volcano.
After the fireworks, we decided to escape the crowds and walk through the city. Compared to the precision of American cities I'm accustomed to, Edinburgh is charmingly chaotic. The charm is like the authenticity of something handmade rather than manufactured. Its history imbues it with an energy that makes it seem alive. The centuries that have passed are evident in every brick and cobblestone. To my delight, the University students suggested we take a stroll through Greyfriar's Kirkyard, a very old and famously haunted graveyard that is also known to be a source of inspiration for the Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling. In stark contrast to the crowds near the music and the castle, the graveyard was dark and empty. My ears buzzed with the silence. I loved the feeling of being in a graveyard so old I couldn't read many of the varied and beautiful gravestones. It carried that eerie feeling of being among the remains of very ancient Scottish families, but the feeling was more of a connectedness to the past that I felt in the city as a whole than a fear of ghosts in an undoubtedly haunted graveyard.
While Hogmanay will probably always be my favorite New Years experience, in ways it also wasn't so different than most new years parties spent listening to loud music, getting very drunk, and trying to navigate your way through a tight-knit crowd of people. But I think that's the greatest benefit of traveling: you learn how different other cultures and countries are, but also how they are not so different at all.