Christmas Traditions in Orkney

Christmas Traditions in Orkney

Scotland’s culture is rich with unique traditions, and the festive season is no different. From Bonfire Night in November to Burns Night in January, we Scots find something to celebrate all through the long winter nights.

Interestingly, Christmas is not always the main gala day in Scotland, as it is in other parts of the world. After the Reformation in the 16th century, partying on December 25th was actually made illegal. Yule didn’t become fashionable again until the Victorian era, and only became an official public holiday in 1958!

As a result, Christmas is a quieter affair than, say, New Year’s Eve, which we call Hogmanay. This is a huge deal in Scotland, more than Christmas day, and is marked with fireworks, fizz, fancy jewelry, gifts and dancing into the wee hours.

Orkney celebrates Christmas day and New Year’s day with an ancient and quirky tradition, called the Kirkwall Ba Game, also known as The Ba'. It involves a leather ball and uses the town’s centre as the playing area. The teams are made up of many of the town’s men or boys, based on where you were born. Those born to the north of the Cathedral were a Doonies, with Uppies being those born to the south.

According to one tale, The Ba' dates back more than 300 years, from Viking times, and memorialises the defeat of Tusker, a wicked Scottish king, as told in the Orkneyinga Saga. It certainly evokes those violent Viking days, as it devolves into a huge scrum, sort of footy meets rugby, with up to 100 or more players fighting for the ball and trying to guard their goal, using alleyways or even rooftops to gain ground. The game can last several chaotic hours. Other Scottish communities, especially in the Borders, play a similar mob football game, with others pitting the town bachelors against the married men.

You may think this is a dangerous pastime, but there are usually not too many injuries, as it is all in good fun these days, rather than in battle. However, the competitors take winning very seriously, with a trophy and bragging rights in play, the odd broken rib can’t be ruled out!

We commemorate this unique Scottish tradition with our Ba' Leather Neckpiece and Ba' themed Cufflinks, designed by our master craftsman Steven Cooper exclusively for Aurora Orkney Jewelry. These handmade pieces feature classic silver with black enamel accents that complement any wardrobe. It’s the perfect gift for those with Orkney roots, or anyone who loves unusual Scottish tales and traditions.
Ba Cufflinks by Aurora Jewellery Orkney          
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