Celebrating the Festive Season in Scotland

The American’s have Thanksgiving but perhaps we have St Andrew’s Day to mark the start of the festive celebrations (even if the shops still think it starts in September).

Even if you’ve missed our Patron Saint’s Holiday, there is so much to see and do in Scotland throughout the festive season so here’s just a few to keep an eye out for or perhaps add to the to do list for a future visit to Scotland…

Ceilidh’s Galore

Ceilidh Dancing (Credit: Joyce Goes)

Ceilidhs are Scotland’s traditional dance and they are a lively affair! While many may use any excuse for a ceilidh such as weddings or family parties, the festive season is filled with the events. Make sure you seek out a ceilidh if your visiting at any time of year but at Christmastime they will certainly put you in the festive spirit and it’s an excellent opportunity for visitors and locals to interact. You will never be lonely at a ceilidh and don’t worry about getting lost all the steps are taught before the dances.

You can find a whole host of Christmas Ceilidhs all over Scotland on Visit Scotland.

Christmas Carol Singing Concerts

Carol’s are always a popular Christmas addition and no more so in Scotland. With so many magical churches and equally stunning outdoor backdrops a carol service is not to be missed.

Christmas Festival Carols by Candlelight (Credit:Raymond Gubbay)

In Edinburgh, St Giles Cathedral is the place to be when it comes to carol singing with a number of performances throughout December.  If you’re looking for a Dickensian twist on the carol singing then Raymond Gubbay Christmas Festival Carols by Candlelight brings lots of traditional tunes performed in 18th century costume!

Or why not check out The Royal Scottish National Orchestra who put on Christmas concerts every year mixing carol favourites with popular Christmas hits. With performances in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow it’s definitely worth a ticket.

Snowy Outings

Of course, in my opinion, there is nothing more magical than snow. A white Christmas is one most of us dream of and here in Scotland it’s a pretty strong possibility, although no guarantees. So, what’s the best way to enjoy some festive flakes?

Liathach, Glen Torridon, Northwest Highlands (Credit:Steve Schnabel)

Winter walks are a big favourite and generally the further North you go on the mainland the more snow you are likely to find but with the spectacular landscapes all over Scotland even the slightest dusting can make every scene magical.

Just remember is you decide to go  and explore in the wintery weather make sure you go prepared and have some tasty festive treats awaiting on your return!

Scotland is also an ideal location of ski and snowboard enthusiast or maybe those just wanting to give it a try. From CairnGorm Montain to Glencoe and the Nevis Range to The Lecht, there is snowsports for all abilities and what better way to enjoy Christmas than a ski holiday in Scotland? Whether looking for accommodation, the latest snow report or you just want to watch the live webcams at the centres then Ski Scotland is the best places to start with links to all your snowsports information.

Festive Lights

While you’ll find plenty of twinkly festive lights in lots of Scottish towns and cities there few events of note this year.

Edinburgh Street of Lights (Credit: Virgin Money)

One that has been hitting the headlines is the Virgin Money Edinburgh Street of Lights. Running from St Andrew’s Day until Christmas Eve this unique canopy of lights covers the Royal Mile from the City Chambers to the Tron Kirk encompassing more than 60,000 lights. The display is also timed to music performed by various Edinburgh based choirs but you’ll need to be quick as the free tickets are going fast.

Glasgow On Ice is also a popular destination; with skating sessions, a festive funfair and plenty of activities for children including storytelling and arts and crafts all based in the heart of the city at George square. Glasgow alone has plenty to offer visits from near and far. Why not read more on Christmas in Glasgow on my guest post for Scot Bloggers here.

The Enchanted Forest (Credit:Angus Forbes)

And it’s not just the big cities getting in on the illuminations, for an alternative take on the Christmas lights why not check out the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry or the Woodland Light Experience in Balfron, Stirlingshire which both dazzling light displays as you explore a stunning woodland setting.

Unique New Year’s Celebrations

And of course let us not forget New Year when Scotland’s own unique and often quirky traditions take place. The biggest party of the Year is the Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party but any Hogmanay party is certain to be a lively one. But remember there are a few customs to keep up with too.

Every Hogmanay Party reaches its peak “on the bells” but after all your guests go home you need to start the first footing. The first visit to any house after the New Year is a first foot and first footers must be prepared; traditionally bearing gifts of food, drink and coal for the fire. A tall, dark male should typically be the first footer as this is said to bring the most good fortune to a house.

For those brave enough, a fairly recent addition to the New Year events is the Loony Dook which is an annual dip in the icy waters at South Queensferry.

“Loony Dookers” in fancy dress in Queensferry (Credit: Telegraph)

For 30 years brave, or perhaps simply mad, participants take a quick swim in the Firth of Forth on New Year’s day often to raise money for charity but some just to soak in the chilly atmosphere.

A traditional Orkney’s sporting event,The Kirkwall Ba’ is based roughly on football but with up to a 100 players who, rather than play their match on a football field, opt to use the entire town of Kirkwall as their setting. Played on both Christmas and New Year’s Day each team, either the ‘Uppies’ or the ‘Doonies’, must get the ball through streets of Kirkwall into the other’s goal which is stationed at opposite ends of town. Despite being a sudden death style game the match often lasts for hours.

Clavie men march through Burghead (Credit:Zimbo)

But even after the 1st of January the festive season continues in some places including in Burghead in Moray, where the Burning of the Clavie on the 11th marks the Gaelic New Year. A “clavie” or barrel is mounted on a pole and filled with wood before being set on fire and marched through the town where pieces of the smouldering wood are handed out to bring luck in the coming year.

What festive activities do you look forward to in Scotland?