What Is a Ceilidh and Why Do We Host One at Oxford Scholastica?

25 Mar, 2024 | Blog Articles, Get the Edge

The ceilidh, pronounced “kay-lee”, is a traditional Gaelic social gathering, common in Celtic countries like Scotland and Ireland. A folk tradition that’s hundreds of years old, most people associate it with traditional dancing and music. 

The ceilidh tradition is a huge part of the Oxford Scholastica summer school experience. At the end of our residential programmes, we host a ceilidh dance as a final hurrah for our hard-working students!

What Is a Ceilidh?

Derived from the Gaelic term meaning “visit” or “gathering”, the ceilidh is a cherished part of Celtic culture and remains a significant part of Scottish university tradition. The word means different things to different communities: in the Scottish Highlands, ceilidhs tend to be folk music concerts, whereas in the Lowlands, they’re often centred around dancing. 

Although a tradition steeped in history and the past, ceilidh dancing has seen something of a resurgence in recent years amongst young people who are keen to connect with their Celtic roots and embrace traditions that might otherwise be lost to history. Many cities in the UK, and across the world, host ceilidh dances, often coinciding with national holidays such as Burns Night and St. Andrew’s Day. 

An Oxford Scholastica Ceilidh

At Oxford Scholastica, we’re proud to embrace the ceilidh tradition during our summer school graduation ceremony. Many universities, especially in Scotland, host ceilidhs as part of graduation celebrations, freshers events and student socials, and we’re keen to reflect this in our own graduation ceremony. 

Unlike more traditional Scottish country dancing, ceilidh dancing is much less formal, and the primary purpose of the dance – for experienced dancers and beginners alike – is to have fun! With our live band and a caller who explains the steps to you while you go, everyone can get stuck in. 

What happens at an Oxford Scholastica ceilidh?

Ceilidhs are social gatherings infused with energy and good spirits, and the Oxford Scholastica ceilidh is no different. 

Our traditional live band plays music that has been passed down from generation to generation and songs that are as steeped in history as the traditional instruments they play: fiddles, bagpipes and accordions. Bagpipes in particular are a unique (and very loud) instrument that evoke the atmosphere of the Scottish wilderness, and hearing them played in person is a pretty special experience, to say the least. 

Students have the opportunity to partake in traditional dances such as Strip the Willow and Dashing White Sergeant. A caller alongside the band tells you the steps as you go, so you don’t need to worry about learning any complicated dance moves! As Angela Dreyer-Larsen, the director of Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust, says about the recent popularity of ceilidh dancing among younger people:

“No one gets upset if you take a wrong step, they’re more likely to kill themselves laughing!”

The Oxford Scholastica ceilidh is a wonderful opportunity to dance, celebrate and laugh together after a lot of hard work.

Group of Oxford Scholastica students smiling at the camera

Why Do We Host a Ceilidh at Oxford Scholastica?

Wondering why the Oxford Scholastica ceilidh is such an important part of our summer school graduation celebration? Here are just a few reasons why we love to introduce the tradition to our students:

I. Cultural celebration and diversity

One of the biggest joys of studying in a different city or country to the one you were born in is the chance to experience and learn about different cultures. 

The ceilidh is a huge part of Celtic social life, and we’re proud to introduce its traditions to students from diverse backgrounds. Music and dance is an international language, connecting people from around the world in a way little else can, so we see our ceilidh as a unique opportunity to learn about and appreciate other cultures in an accessible and enjoyable way.

II. Fostering social connections

At Oxford Scholastica, we often talk about the opportunity our summer schools provide for making social connections from around the world and networking with other bright students who share the same passions as you. 

The ceilidh is a fantastic way to forget about the hard work we’ve done (at least for a little while) and to celebrate the other important thing about your Oxford Scholastica experience: the friends you’ve made. The ceilidh is a lively and light-hearted way of solidifying these friendships and trying something new together!

III. Promoting inclusivity and belonging

The easy-to-follow nature of the ceilidh, and its emphasis on community and togetherness, means it’s a great way to show our commitment to the inclusion of every student. 

Regardless of your cultural background or prior experience, the ceilidh is a way to come together and celebrate our differences. It’s a cultural pastime that brings all sorts of different people together in the name of good fun. 

IV. Enhancing the student experience

Signing up to our summer school means you’re a hard-working and excellent student, and we all know that comes from putting a lot of time and effort into your studies. 

We like to see the ceilidh as a way of saying a big “well done”, not just for the work you’ve put in throughout the summer school, but for all the work you’ve done which has led you to us in the first place. 

Working hard is incredibly important, but so too is enjoying a well-earned break from that hard work. Reflect on what you’ve achieved and let yourself relax and enjoy yourself!

V. Creating lasting memories

Of all the memories you make at Oxford Scholastica’s summer school – from city tours and day trips to receiving your graduation certificate – the ceilidh is often one of the most unforgettable. Between the timeless sounds of traditional music and the laughter-filled dancefloor, the ceilidh will be a cherished memory you’ll never forget.

Perhaps you’ve been to a ceilidh before, or perhaps even the word is brand new to you, but we hope you now have a better idea of what the Oxford Scholastica summer school ceilidh looks like, and why it’s such a significant and treasured part of the experience! 

By embracing the ceilidh’s spirit of community, celebration and cultural exchange, you’ll make memories for life and enjoy the perfect, well-earned end to a fantastic few weeks of enriching, unforgettable experiences.


By Sam Cox

Sam is a recent English graduate from the University of Bristol whose interests include twentieth-century fiction, film, and cultural criticism.

Attend our Oxford Ceilidh!

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