Edinburgh’s Christmas (or, how I finally found out what a ‘Hot Toddy’ actually means)

Edinburgh is a multicultural city, a cosmopolis, one of the great European capitols.  I often pause around three o’clock on a clear day to catch the sun paint the minaret of the Central Mosque across Potterrow from George Square in brilliant amber and warm beige (and later, I might head to their kitchen for £5 curry).  Friends have reported spending time at a Zen Buddhist priory by the beach at Portobello; and to walk down Princes Street is to hear the pleasant discord of Scots slang canting off rapid Mandarin babble, peppered with Americanisms, colored by the sound of a Zulu choir, and a man playing the sitar (on Sundays) or devilish blues git-fiddle picking (on Fridays).  I compare this with my hometown, Buffalo, home to an overwhelming German-Irish-Italian majority, a vast contingent of African American Protestants, and defined by the family names of its early German and English high-church worshipers.  Buffalo has an old and established Jewish population, of course, and a growing Muslim population – but we don’t yet have Edinburgh’s cosmopolitan culture, nor will we ever have Edinburgh’s history of atheist, deist, or free-thinker thought, dating back to the Scottish Enlightenment.  But in Buffalo, even nominally Christian organizations carefully craft inoffensive ‘holiday’ communications, while the bastions of capitalism swelling to their greatest annual girth proudly plop Santas in the hearts of their consumption-temples, without ever using the word “Christmas.”

As an American, then, I was surprised to find, on Edinburgh’s commercial artery of Princes Street, spotlit signs heralding the all-encompassing “Edinburgh’s Christmas.”  The University long ago established Edinburgh as one of the capitols of the secular world (if not yet the capitol of an independent country) but secular or no, the one thing a Scot’s Scot will never be is PC.  Scots cherish their Christmas traditions (one of which is the hot apple toddy – more on that later).  More importantly: absolutely everyone is invited to their party.

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