The Scottish Highland Games Tradition

The tradition of our Scottish games goes back to days of old when rival clans or kings would meet. Competitions were organized both to keep men-at-arms and camp followers out of trouble as well as to impress one’s rivals with how strong or skilled one’s own men were.

The first modern Highland games were held in 1819 at the Perthshire estate of Lord Gwydir in Scotland. Activities included piping, dancing, and athletics, much like one sees today at our Games. Prizes were offered to competitors in “Highland Reels and the Ancient Scotch Sword Dance,” as well as in piping.

The Braemar Games were founded in 1832 by the Braemar Highland Society. They became a favorite pastime of Queen Victoria, who from 1849 allowed them to be held at her summer residence, Braemar Castle. They are still held there to this day.

The oldest of the great Highland gatherings still running is the week-long Northern Meeting, first held at Inverness in 1798. Starting as a grand social event, piping and dancing competitions were added in 1841. Today, the Northern Meeting hosts one of the most prestigious piping competitions in the world and is a “must” for aficionados making the rounds of the games in Scotland.

Strong traditions have evolved from these games or gatherings. At Glenfinnan, where the Bonnie Prince raised his standard so many years ago, the Gathering is opened by a Gaelic song and followed by an address, both given in Gaelic.

Memories of these gatherings were brought to America by our Scottish ancestors. It wasn’t long before games sprang up in our own country. The origins of those held each year at Pleasanton, California, date back more than 125 years. The origins of our games in the Rocky Mountain West can be traced back to Scottish fur trappers, who continued the age-old games traditions in their encampments.


The Colorado Scottish Festival

Each August, the tradition of Highland games comes alive for two days, thousands of miles from the land in which they were born. The centerpiece of the Games is competition in three major areas — Highland dancing, piping and drumming, and traditional Scottish athletics. In addition, Scottish food and beverage is offered, and a variety of other events are scheduled throughout the weekend to interest every family member. Musicians fill the air with traditional Scottish music. Members of the public can trace their ancestry at our Scots’ Heritage Center, (featuring information on genealogy and clan history) participate in Scottish country dancing on the green, or just enjoy the sights and sounds of Scotland. The skirl of the Massed Pipes & Drums at the Midday Ceremonies fill the air with the feeling of a day in the Scottish Highlands (without the fog and drizzle). Vendors display traditional Scottish wares in the Market Square. Even the “wee bairn” have their own activities so that their parents can fully enjoy the day.