Christmas in Edinburgh

by Dee


Scotland Series:
Post #6

Christmas in Edinburgh was something that never crossed my mind. Neither Anne nor I celebrate Christmas, but it’s still an interesting occasion to observe. 

I expected to have lights, candies, goodies, and Santa! I already know what Christmas in my country looks like. Now, I want to know what’s going on in Edinburgh during Christmas.

Christmas in Edinburgh

Quiet Christmas Morning

Christmas in Edinburgh marked the third day we’re here. We decided to take it down a notch compared to yesterday. I looked outside the window and all I see was grey sky. If I hadn’t been long in Britain, I would’ve thought that it’s earlier in the day. But no, it’s 12:30 pm. It seemed that Anne and I slept through the half of the day. Goodness me! Perhaps, it’s the heater in our room that kept us comfortable under the duvet. 

There aren’t any signs of people booking the other two bunk beds in our room, but we decided not to mess with them in case someone would show up. Also, the hostel seemed to be at minimum capacity, which is good, cause we’re saved from any possibilities of any social nuisance. Lazily taking a shower and putting on our winter armours (scarves, gloves, and beanies), we headed outside. Blimey, it’s mighty cold! 

We had no destination today. No to-do list, no to-visit places. We decided to turn left from Caledonian’s door and found our way circling to Princes Street. We were window shopping though no shops were open cause it’s Christmas. Plans to return to Rendezvous were made later on to make good of Mrs Rendezvous’s words that she’d stay open on Christmas.

Princes Street was quiet compared to yesterday when everybody was rushing to do their Christmas shopping. Anne was enjoying her time, marking and making notes on each shop we’re going to go on Boxing Day. Princes Street was originally included as part of the New Town designed by Hames Craig in 1757 and started out as a residential street. 

The naming of the street refers to the sons of King George III. Some of the original buildings still exist today though heavily gentrified as shopping centres, especially on the front façades. This is what I love about proper development in Britain. 

Although an old neighbourhood with old buildings was gentrified or modernised, they do not completely erase the history of the current establishment whenever possible. The fact that it was in their minds to do so is amazing. Even when complete demolition deemed necessary, they took the time to put up a remembrance or memorial plaque. This way, no history left forgotten.

Now, let’s compare that to the shite condition at Oud Batavia in Jakarta—a place that shole have been treasured no matter how bitter the history is. We were lucky that Oud Batavia was then made into a pedestrian-only section, restricting all vehicles from coming inside the peripheral area. That’s already a miracle but for how long will that rule stands out? My country’s people aren’t known to be the people who appreciate history. We could certainly learn from Britain about collective memory preservations no matter how bitter that history bit might be. Now, I’m rambling—forgive me.

St Cuthbert’s Burial Ground

Before lunch, we decided to check out one place. Well, I suggested it. Where? St Cuthbert’s Burial Ground. Oh, deary Dee, another graveyard? Why, yes, why not? I’m sure I’m not the only one in this world to decide and look around in a graveyard on a Christmas day in Edinburgh. I never regretted playing amongst the gravestones. Well, not playing, you know… admiring stoneworks, contemplating death, imagining the lives of the ones buried there. 

This particular place is a little bit bizarre because two churches were built very close to each other. Usually, I found one church in one dedicated area or was it just my prejudice speaking. During the research, I looked at the floor plan of St Cuthbert’s and immediately thought, “This is older—the layout looked pre-Medieval.” Was I wrong? Maybe. I don’t know. I am doing research as I go along writing this post. We’ll find out soon enough. 

The name also suggested an older origin that of St Cuthbert whom I remember when learning about Lindisfarne. The efforts of reading Anglo-Saxon period in British archaeology finally paid off, I guess. The church is indeed old; as old as the 8th century (McKee, 2011). The first recorded history of St Cuthbert’s Church is the year 1128 when King David I granted the land to Holyrood Abbey, now also in ruins (RCAHM Scotland, 1951: 185). 

I wasn’t completely wrong either for assuming that the naming was related to Cuthbert. This church is though to the one that Symeon of Durham mentioned in 854. St Cuthbert’s Church was consecrated by David de Bernham, Bishop of St Andrews in 1242 (Dunlop, 1988) and quite possibly was a reconsecration due to loss of records. 

To the moment of this writing, I still don’t know why Church of St John the Evangelist was built very close to St Cuthbert. They’re not from the same denomination but this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Each church has a different address with St Cuthbert’s at Lothian Road and St John’s at Princes Street. While St Cuthbert’s Church definitely has an older history, St John’s was built in 1816-1818 designed by William Burn. What’s the story here? 

I cannot find the reason why St John’s was built super close to St Cuthbert. Am I repeating myself from a few sentences before? Pfft, yeah, well, I am confused. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I bet there’s a story somewhere. 

Anyway, both St Cuthbert’s and St John’s are a part of Edinburgh City Centre Churches Together since this year, 2008. It’s an ecumenical grouping of three churches in the New Town of Edinburgh together with churches of St Andrew’s and St George’s in George Street. They have projects organised such as JustFestival, Workplace Chaplaincy, Christian Aid, Homelessness and Civic Engagement. So, my question stays: why was St John’s built close by St Cuthbert’s? It’s not an urgent question, but it would wonderful to know why. 

The new church was designed by Hippolyte Blanc and was opened on 11 July 1894. We stayed outside the church, considering that it was Christmas and we were not familiar with the goings-on in churches at Christmas. We didn’t want to intrude any possible processions happening inside, so we kept ourselves restricted to the kirkyard and we didn’t mind at all. 

The original kirkyard of St Cuthbert was limited to the south-west part but then the area was expanded in 1701. The kirkyard was declared as full by the city’s Medical Officer of Health but persisted and kept burials going (Littlejohn, 1865). By 1873 the church was taken to court for ignoring the warning. In 1874 it was ordered to close the burial ground by the Council. Who were the people buried here? John Napier is one, he’s the inventor of logarithms. The uncle of Charles Darwin is also buried here. 

The gravestones are amazing with loads of memento mori carving variations. We also got a wonderful view of Edinburgh Castle from below the plug rock. I hope everyone at home has a merry Christmas in warm houses or rooms. Anne and I enjoyed the slowness of the first half of Christmas in Edinburgh, and we have a lunch appointment to go.


1. Dunlop, A. I. 1988. The Kirks of Edinburgh: 1560–1984. Scottish Record Society.

2. Littlejohn, H.D. 1865. Report on the Sanitary Condition of the City of Edinburgh, with relative Appendices, &c. Medical Officer of Health for the City. Royal 8vo: 192.

3. Marwick, S., 1871. Charters And Other Documents Relating To The City Of Edinburgh, A.D.1143-1540. Edinburgh Scottish Burgh Records Society. John Grieg & Son: Edinburgh.

4. McKee, K. 2011. Edinburgh Graveyards Project: Documentary Survey For St Cuthbert’s Kirkyard. World Monuments Fund in Britain. (link)

5. An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of the City of Edinburgh with the Thirteenth Report of the Commission. 1951. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

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