Scotland’s traditional festivals

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  • A piper in full Highland dress pipes in the haggis during a Burns' Night celebration at Stirling Castle
    A Burns Night celebration at Stirling Castle
  • Riders returning from the Selkirk marches galloping at the Toll
    Riders returning from the Selkirk marches galloping at the Toll
  • Torchbearers dressed as Vikings march through the streets of Lerwick during Shetland's Up Helly Aa fire festival
    The torchlight procession during the Up Helly Aa fire festival in Shetland

From welcoming in the New Year in the north, to marking the country’s boundaries, Scotland has a proud history of celebrating its traditional heritage.

Immerse yourself in Scotland’s traditions and enjoy a wonderful range of festivals and events throughout the year.

The Festive Season

The Orkney Ba’ Game is held each Christmas Eve and Hogmanay on the streets of Kirkwall. Two teams from the town, known as the Uppies (Up the Gates) and the Doonies (Down the Gates), compete for possession of the coveted ba’, a hand-made leather ball filled with cork. The team’s names are thought to derive from the Old Norse gata, meaning road, but today inclusion in a particular team is much more about family loyalty.

Starting in Broad Street, the teams battle it out to reach their goal. The Uppies aim for the south end of the town while the Doonies head north and try to get the ba’ into Kirkwall Bay.

On the mainland, the streets of the coastal town of Stonehaven are spectacularly illuminated each Hogmanay for the annual Fireballs Festival. Around 45 participants swing fireballs around their head as they parade up and down the High Street, creating an impressive light display, to welcome in the New Year.

The New Year celebrations continue on 11 January in Burghead in Moray, the ancient Pictish capital with the Burning of the Clavie. Each year the people of the village come together to light the ceremonial torch, or clavie, a wooden barrel filled with wood and doused in tar. Once alight, the clavie is carried through the town and placed at Doorie Hill where it is left to burn. If you are lucky enough to get a piece of the clavie, it is said to guarantee luck throughout the year.

The last Tuesday in January marks Europe’s largest fire festival, Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Shetland. Celebrating the islands’ Nordic heritage, the event includes a fantastic torch-lit procession which culminates in the burning of a Viking galley.

Burns Supper

From haggis, neeps, tatties and whisky to singing, dancing or reciting poetry, no celebration of Scottish tradition is complete without marking the birth of the National Bard Robert Burns. Every 25 January, not just across Scotland, but across the world, Burns Suppers are held which commemorate his life and work.

Return to the Ridings

Throughout June and July, 11 towns across the Scottish Borders are filled with pageantry for the annual Return to the Ridings. This celebration marks the turbulent time between the 13th and 17th centuries when settlement boundaries were patrolled on horseback to protect against the Border Reivers, the raiders who pillaged the land on the either side of the Anglo-Scots border.

The festivities include traditional sports and processions on horseback, with specially elected standard-bearers leading the way who have been voted for by the local community.

Be inspired by Scotland’s traditions and dedication to preserving its heritage throughout the year.