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Festivals in Scotland


The Edinburgh International Festival presents a rich program of classical music, theatre, opera and dance in 6 major theatres and concert halls and a number of smaller venues, over a 3-week period in late summer each year. Established in 1947, in the wake of World War II, its founders believed that it should enliven and enrich the cultural life of Europe, Britain and Scotland and ‘provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’. They also recognised that, if the Festival succeeded, it would create a major new source of tourism for Edinburgh and for Scotland.

The mission of the Edinburgh Festival is to be the most exciting, innovative and accessible Festival of the performing arts in the world, and thus promote the cultural, educational and economic well-being of the people of Edinburgh and Scotland. From the beginning the Festival has presented performances of the highest possible standard, involving the best artists in the world. In addition, the Festival has a year-round program of education and outreach work, aimed at all ages.

The Edinburgh Festival from the start inspired people to put on shows of their own without the official Festival, and soon these grew into the Festival Fringe. Since then half a dozen or so more festivals have grown up around it and collectively these are often known as ‘the Edinburgh Festival’. These festivals include, most notably, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Military Tattoo, and Book, Film, Jazz and Mela Festivals take place, but festival events have now been expanded into other times of the year with the Hogmanay Festival and the Science and Children’s Festivals.


Held up against the official Edinburgh International Festival, The Fringe Festival is a youthful, impetuous, attention-seeking hanger-on. In the early Festival days, scripts were required by law to be read and approved (until 1968). Another law enforced the police to move on or arrest buskers and street entertainers.

Relations between the Fringe and the official Festival have at times been frosty. In the 60s, advice for Fringe performers was, “Festival vs Fringe. Do not expect much help from the official Festival Society. As a body it resolutely refuses to recognise its poor relations”. By 1969 the Fringe was at least mentioned in the Festival brochure. A more friendly relationship developed, but in 1991 the two had their next spectacular clash when the outgoing Festival director called the Fringe ‘a third-rate circus’.

Today, relations are good, with both festivals respecting each other’s very different territory. However, as the Fringe grows and grows, eclipsing the Festival with its sheer size and vivacity, who knows what the future will bring? Little did the 8 groups who gate-crashed the Edinburgh International Festival know, but what they’ve started back in 1947 caught on around the world and now there are over 40 Fringes celebrating the Arts worldwide.


Highland Games are festivals held throughout the year in Scotland and many other countries of the world as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. Certain aspects of the games have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy sporting events, especially the caber toss. While centered around competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics (see SPORTS), the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.

Highland Dancing competitions are a regular feature of almost every Highland Games. Once the preserve of clan warriors, nowadays Highland dancing is usually performed by youngsters, mostly girls to the accompaniment of bagpipes. The dances are mostly solo performances, where the emphasis is on the precise execution of intricate footwork. They have difficult movements and require much stamina and coordination.


1. The Highland Fling: A dance of victory in battle, traditionally performed by ancient warriors and clansmen on the small round shield which they carried into battle.

2. The Sword Dance (Ghillie Callum): The best-known ancient dance of war of the Scottish Gael. Legend says a Celtic prince was victorious at the Battle of Dunsinane in 1054, then took the chief’s sword, crossed over it with his own on the ground before him, and danced over them both in exultation.

3. The Seann Triubhas: Pronounced ‘shawn trews’ in Gaelic and meaning ‘old trousers’, this dance depicts someone in the act of shedding his britches (during the slow, 1st part of the dance) and returning to his tradition of Highland dress and custom (during the final, up-tempo fling-like step).

4. The Strathspey and Highland Reel: These are the closest to social dancing, but are individual competitions.

5. Scottish Lilt / Flora MacDonald’s Fancy / Scotch Measure / Earl of Errol: These four Scottish National dances are more modern and were developed so women could participate. They are much more rhythmic and balletic, though still requiring quick and precise movements. Men can also perform these dances, but they wear the traditional Highland outfit.

Other Events and Attractions

At modern-day Highland Games, there are other activities and events, foremost among them are the clan tents and vendors of Scottish-related goods. At modern games, you can see collections of swords and armour, and often mock battles. Herding trials and exhibitions are often held, showcasing the breeder’s and trainer’s skills. Traditional and modern Celtic arts are often showcased. They could include Harpist’s circles, Scottish country dancing, and one or more entertainment stages. In addition, most events usually feature a pre-event ceilidh (a social event with traditional music and song).


Melas first came to Britain in the late 80s. In 1995 people from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and other traditions of the sub-continent established a Mela in Edinburgh. Chinese, African and other groups were also involved. The Edinburgh Mela is not an attempt to recreate a South Asian Mela, but a bringing together of many aspects of South Asian traditions (and other cultures) into a modern Scottish environment – to make something beautiful and natural. A Mela in Edinburgh is a collective celebration of the colourful costumes of the people, their arts and crafts, and the bazaar filled with the aromas of the east. Traders sell clothes, fabrics, jewellery, handcrafts and many other items.