It was as if for one night I was transported back to Scotland, where I studied abroad for a semester freshman year. The men were all dressed in kilts, while the women wore dresses. Haggis, neeps, and tatties were served for dinner. Bagpipe music filled the room before coming to a momentary halt so a poem by Robert Burns could be recited, after which everyone raised a glass of whiskey for a toast. The occasion: a ceilidh in Grey Towers Castle.
A ceilidh (cay-lee) is a traditional Scottish gathering with folk music and dancing, which I first experienced while studying at the University of Stirling. I never felt more a part of the Scottish culture than when I was at a ceilidh; I would do traditional Scottish dances to traditional music with Scottish friends who were dressed in traditional Scottish attire. Many of the dances were very complicated, with partner changes, spinning, and an exhausting amount of skipping. Many of the Scottish students didn’t even know the moves. The dancing at Arcadia’s ceilidh was even more uncoordinated but the confusion and fumbling was all part of the fun. Bumping into strangers, stepping on a few toes, and in the end laughing about it all.
In Scotland, my favorite part of a ceilidh was the last song. Everyone would get in a circle, hold hands, and sing “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond,” a folk song that dates back more than 150 years. It’s usually the last song played at the end of a Scottish celebration; once I even heard it played as the closing song at a local night club in Stirling. The song starts out very slowly, but the beat soon picks up, and everyone starts stomping their feet, singing very loudly, and moving towards the center of the circle. The energy in the room was amazing and I could always feel Scotland’s rich culture through the song.
We didn’t get to sing “Loch Lomond” at Arcadia’s Ceilidh, but I got to immerse myself in Scottish culture in a different way. Many of the people in attendance were students who had studied abroad in Scotland. We compared experiences, swapped our favorite stories, and talked about our favorite Scottish slang. Although I wasn’t surrounded by Scots, I got to reminisce on Scotland with people that love the country as much as I do.