Scottish Pageantry light up Edinburgh’s night skies

Heather-colored skies collapse into twilight. Edinburgh Castle glows in banks of floodlights. A solitary voice from behind the castle’s walls sets a somber tone. The great oak gates of the castle suddenly sweep open, and from its bowels the swell of bagpipes and drums electrify the night. Hundreds of thousands of onlookers turn their attention the drawbridge to see bands by the hundreds and effigies of Scotland’s freedom fighters, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, parade through the night.

Edinburgh’s Military Tattoo is a vivid, emotional and historic display given by military bands along with international dancers and musicians as part of the Edinburgh Festival. The word “tattoo” dates back to the 17th century when drummers from military garrisons were dispersed to encourage inn keepers to “turn off the taps” and send the soldiers back to their barracks.

The first contemporary “tattoo”, celebrated in 1950, welcomes military regiments from all over the world to perform to crowds of over 200,000 and television audiences of 12 million. Yet, the real stars of the show are the Scottish regiments with their rousing tunes echoing Scotland’s fiery and tragic past. Drummers and pipers have a special place on Scotland’s battlefields and in the country’s history. At the height of battle, musicians of the past played stirring music to give courage and inspiration to the country’s soldiers.

Most of the visitors and travelers to the annual event on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle are from the United Kingdom. Half are from overseas. The event, first seen in color in 1968, surpasses England’s Trooping of the Color in its majesty and was once the subject of a documentary made by Elizabeth Taylor’s fourth husband, Mike Todd. Breathtaking in its choreography and complexity, the military “tattoo” requires over 35 miles of cabling – this distance between Edinburgh and Glasgow!

While the entire production is said to be stirring by visitors, it is the finale of the Lone Piper playing the Evening Hymn – a haunting lament – into the night sky that brings tears to young and old, native and visitors alike. Scotland is a country heavily bonded to history and tradition, and though the country remains part of the United Kingdom, the nationalistic bones of audience members may be tickled each summer as darkness falls on both Scots and visitors alike.