Scotland’s Gala Days
Scotland’s Gala Days take place in the months of May and June. A Scottish tradition of gala weeks in full swing. It’s a time for towns to get together and celebrate their history and culture. There will be sports days, horse-riding, fancy-dress. And don’t forget float parades with pipe and brass bands. And almost always there will be a gala queen who will be crowned. The queen, her maids or attendants and sometimes a king are usually chosen from primary 7 pupils. It’s seen as a rite of passage before moving on to secondary school. The queen is crowned by a lady of importance in the community such as a councillor or sometimes by the previous year’s queen. Often the homes of the queen and her entourage were decorated with colourful arches, but in recent years some families have really gone to town with their home displays!
The celebrations vary across the regions. In the central belt gala weeks were very often associated with the coal mining communities such as Newtongrange. Gala celebrations took place to mark successful wins for workers’ rights or to raise some cheer during tough economic times. The first gala day in Scotland is thought to have been held in 1770 in Loanhead. When miners – and their children – from the Dryden Colliery were invited to a feast to celebrate the birthday of the landowner, Lord Lockhart of Carnwath. Now most have set weeks each year so as not to coincide with neighbouring towns and will have a wide range of events for all the family.
Gala Days in the borders
In the Borders towns such as Hawick and Selkirk the week is all about the common riding. This involves “ride outs” around the town borders, re-enacting the old medieval practice for the local lord or clan leader to appoint a leading townsperson. They would then ride the clan’s boundaries, or “marches”, to protect their lands and prevent reivers from stealing cattle. Today a local young man will be elected to lead the common riding. Often called the cornet lad he has a lass to accompany him. And some towns such as Lockerbie also have sports days, fancy dress competitions and of course a queen.
Gala Days on the coasts
Coastal community gala weeks (such as Newhaven and Stromness) celebrate their connections to fishing with some of the queens arriving by boat to be crowned. There will often be water-based events such as raft races as well as the usual fancy dress competitions and sports days.
Hopefully you will be able to get along to a gala week event and let’s hope for good weather for all Scotland’s gala days.
Use Library Search to find books and journal articles on events, social history and Scottish traditions.
Search on You Tube to view footage of old gala weeks, and common riding events.
Photo source Michelle Henderson
You can read more about Scottish Traditions like Burns Night