Highland games, a symbol of Scottish culture and representation, are festivals that are conducted throughout the year in Scotland as well as in other parts of the world, where Scots, by lineage or birth, have settled. The Highland games have their origin in the 11th century when Scotland’s King Malcolm III urged contestants to participate in a foot race, in order to recruit the most perfect men at arms for his army. Initially, the games were held at the summit of Craig Choinnich. The athlete events that form the focal point of the events were actually developed to test the performers’ accuracy, agility, stamina, and strength.
The first modern Highland games were conducted at Lord Gwydir’s Perthshire Estate, in Scotland, in 1819. The prime competitions held during this time were athletics, piping, and dancing, and prizes were given to the best performers in such events as Highland reels and the ancient Scotch sword dance and piping. Later, it became more popular when Queen Victoria developed a special interest for Scotland, its people and its culture. As a result, highland games became one of the favorite pastimes for the Queen. From 1849, she allowed these games to be conducted at Braemer Castle, and which are conducted there to this day.
It is now estimated that every year more than 500 Highland games are conducted around the world, of which more that 175 are held in the United States. The largest as well as the most spectacular Highland games in the world is the Cowal Highland Gathering – also known as the Cowal Games. Conducted in Dunoon, Scotland, every August. The Cowal games draw more than 3,500 competitors and around 10,000 spectators from across the globe.
Another popular set of Highland games is the Clanloddoch Games and Gathering, which is held in Strathdon, every August. Also of special significance are Highland games conducted in Inverness every summer, attracting a large number of Scottish highlanders as well as tourists. A few among the highland games held in the US are the Capital District Scottish games conducted annually in Almont, New York; Seaside Highland games conducted in California; and Grandfather Mountain Highland Games conducted in North Carolina.
The prime attraction of Highland games is the Scottish highlanders, which are considered the descendants of several Celtic people, such as the Scotti, the Picts, and Gaels. They celebrate their heritage by wearing kilts or traditional clothes. Among the athletic competitions are the caber, throwing the hammer, the shot putt, tug-of-war, weight throw, and sheaf toss. Mostly, high school as well as college track and field athletes participate in these events. Perhaps one of the most memorable events in the Highland games are a series of events related to music, of which most noteworthy is bagpipe music. Equally important is different types of drumming and piping competitions. Harp circles, fiddling, and the Celtic bands also form highlights of musical events.
Prominent of the dance events are traditional dances such as Scottish country dancing and highland dancing. Scottish country dancing takes after ballroom dancing. On the other hand, Highland dancing is a technical form of dance, and is mostly performed solo. Highland dancing is held in accordance with standardized steps and rules put forward by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD). Highland dancing is classified into traditional highland dances and national dances. Some of the traditional highland dances are the Seann Triubhas, Sword Dance, and the Highland Reel. The Flora MacDonald, Blue Bonnets, and Scottish Lilt are among the national dances. Apart from these events, a variety of other events and activities are also now included in highland games, like traditional feats of Armories, herding dog trials, and the showcasing of several modern as well as traditional Celtic arts. One can also shop a range of traditional Scottish items during this event.
Highland games entertain both men and women, young and old. Furthermore, they are an excellent way to explore and learn about the Scottish culture and heritage.