Edinburgh’s Christmas: Silent Light
On a cold Sunday evening in December 2016, I ventured out to buy essential supplies. As I reached the corner of George Street, I noticed a mass of people heading towards Castle Street. They were being called by bright lights beckoning them further down the road.
Being new to the city I followed them, and discovered the Street of Light, a massive light installation that came alive twice every evening to the sound of music. It was right on my doorstep and it was free. Walking down Rose Street later, along with those who had been there, it felt like a Christmas wonderland in a city that welcomed people in for the festive period.
A year later, I hoped it would be back, but for Christmas 2017 there was no street of light, just an ill-fitting collection of bars, food stalls, rides and market stalls. The lowest common denominator festivities. Magic replaced by money making. The eclectic mix of people reduced to disgruntled children and their parents and groups of blokes waiting until they could legitimately head into a pub rather than pretend it was warm enough to drink outside.
This explains my delight at seeing the massive steel structure that is the Street of Light coming to life once more down George Street. Except it turns out that this year there will be no music booming out of the street. The Street of Light has become Silent Light, a mix of the original Street of Light with the Silent Adventures Silent Disco that was so successful during the fringe.
Successful if you were participating in it, or making money out of it, that is. For anyone not wanting to stand in a group being encouraged to dance and break into song, it was the thing that kept popping up all over the place, with people taking part in it once or twice then leaving the city before the novelty wore off. It was the thing that they hoped wouldn’t be seen again at least until August 2019. No such luck.
Silent Light is described on the Edinburgh Christmas website as “the ultimate street party: singing and dancing under a spectacular array of 60,000 lights synchronised to music heard only through the headphones.”
So, if the music can only be heard through headphones, people who don’t have headphones are not invited to the party. And this party comes with an admission charge. Anyone wanting to hear the music will have to pay £4.50 a time for a choice of three 20-minute options, Christmas Crackers, Santa’s Sparkles or Disco Delights.
‘For anyone who doesn’t want to take part, or can’t afford to, instead of the communal event where people shared in the uplifting music and lights that filled the street, they will have only the sound of smaller groups bursting into off-key renditions of Merry Christmas Everybody or We Are Family.’
Doesn’t sound so good when you put it like that. So, why are they doing it? Is it really to create the ultimate street party or is because it’s a way to make additional money out of Christmas festivities, as if overpriced drink and food were not income enough?
My objection to Silent Light is that it is an exclusive event in an inclusive setting. It will encourage or force some families to part with money simply to avoid feeling left out, while for others it will be a reason to avoid George Street altogether.
It is not ‘The Perfect Christmas Entertainment for All’ that the Edinburgh Christmas website claims it is. It takes away from the experience and makes it another thing that smacks of commercialism in a city that could be in danger of forgetting what the Christmas Spirit is meant to be.
The solution? Give music to the people without asking them to pay for it or to be subjected to six weeks of bad cover versions if they don’t.
Silent Light runs from 19 November to 1 January. Further details at http://www.edinburghschristmas.com/whats-on/silent-light
Silent Light is supported by Essential Edinburgh, The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square and Signature Pub Group.