Welcome to December in Orkney!

December is here, and the festive season in Orkney is just around the corner. We've put together a look at some of the events and activities coming up across the islands over the next few weeks to help you plan your trip if you're heading here for Christmas. We've also included a new parish focus feature - this month, we turn the spotlight on beautiful Harray in Orkney's West Mainland.

Get festive in the islands

December's events calendar in Orkney is packed full with performances, parades, pantos and lots more. Get into the Christmas spirit and see the festive lights being switched on across the islands over the coming week. The Stenness tree will be illuminated on the 2nd of December with events in Dounby, Finstown and Shapinsay on Friday the 4th. Flotta and Westray will have their ceremonies at the weekend, on Saturday the 5th.

Kirkwall's tree lighting event includes a traditional Scandinavian parade involving local schoolchildren, speeches and performances. The St Lucy procession features a special concert in and around St Magnus Cathedral before the stunning tree, donated by Orkney's twin region of Hordaland in Norway, is lit up on the Kirk Green. Theevent is free so head along to the Cathedral on Saturday night to get fully into the festive spirit.

Panto!

It just wouldn'tbe Christmas without the panto! Aladdin will take centre stage in Kirkwall at the Orkney Theatre between the 5th and 12th of December - get your tickets now and join in the fun.

If you'd prefer something different, get ready to rock in Stromness! The local drama club will be performing 'Rock of Ages' from the 2nd of December until the 5th. Go along and let your hair down in proper 80's rock style.

The weather isn't always kind in Orkney during December, so why not take a seat in our modern cinema at the Pickaquoy Centre? On offer this month are some of the latest releases, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It will debut here at one minute past midnight on its release date on the 17th of December, with regular showings right across the festive period.

There are also live screenings of two theatre performances, including Kenneth Branagh's 'The Winter's Tale', and a showing of 'The Mikado' from English National Opera too.

Maehowe

One of Orkney's most spectacular sights is the Winter Solstice at Maeshowe. The midwinter sun streams through the entrance tunnel at the Neolithic tomb, illuminating the central chamber with golden light. If you can't make it to Orkney to see it for yourself, you can view the spectacle thanks to these webcams.

The Ba'

The Christmas spirit is forgotten on Christmas and New Year's Day in Orkney when the traditional street football game, the Ba', gets underway! Two teams of Uppies and Doonies compete through the streets of Kirkwall to bring a hand-crafted leather ball to their respective ends of the town. It's an incredible sight with an electric atmosphere. Join hundreds of spectators to watch the massive scrum as play rumbles throughout the flagstone streets. On both days the boy's game begins at 10.30am, with the men's game starting at 1pm.

Hogmanay in Orkney is a special time too. See in the New Year in a local pub with live music and the very best Orkney beers and whiskies. Or, if you're wrapped up warm, join revellers on Broad Street in Kirkwall or the Pierhead in Stromness for the bells.

There's always lots more happening around Orkney - keep up to date with our events page, pick up a copy of local newspaper 'The Orcadian' every Thursday and tune into BBC Radio Orkney every weekday morning from 0730 on 93.7FM.

Parish Focus - Harray

Did you know that the peaceful parish of Harray, in Orkney's West Mainland, is the only landlocked parish in the islands? But what it lacks in terms of beaches and coastline, it more than makes up for with some special attractions of its own.

One of the most popular sites in the parish is the Harray Loch. It's one of the best locations in Scotland for trout fishing and welcome visitors from around the country every year. Anglers flock to the 2,500 acre loch for its skerries, shallows and points. It's great for wading too and has more than fourteen miles of coastline. Local hotel, The Merkister, is the place to go for boat hire and post-fishing meal.

Harray also features a number of beautiful walks and viewpoints. It's one of Orkney's most fertile areas and the view from the Lyde Road back across the rolling farmland towards the lochs is lovely. There is also an excellent picnic spot off the Stoneyhill Road - enjoy your lunch accompanied by peace, quiet and the sounds of nature at the lochside.

Farming has always been an important part of life in Orkney and you can learn more about the industry here in years gone by at Corrigall Farm Museum. The traditional style farmhouse and steading dates back to the late 19th Century and visitors can see a working barn and grain kiln, along with livestock at the site.

There are plenty of walks to enjoy in the parish too. One of our favourites is the trail to Syradale, a beautiful valley which can be reached from Refuge Corner, passing the Wasdale Loch en-route. During the summer you might see waterfalls and stunning wild flowers, as well as the panoramic view towards the horizon.

Finally, make sure you stop off at the home of the original Harray Potter when you're in the parish! No wizards here, but the Fursbreck Pottery is home to Andrew Appleby and his fantastic pottery collection. He creates pieces inspired by Orkney's ancient heritage and you can often see him in action during a visit. There is also a huge selection of pots, plates, mugs, cups, bowls, jewellery and lots more on offer.

If you'd like to make Harray your port of call when you're in Orkney, search our accommodation listings for some of the best hotels, guest houses, B&B's and self catering cottages in the islands.

Hopefully you found this December update useful. If you've been inspired to find out more about Orkney, explore our site and visit Orkney.com for more on life in the islands. You can also sign up to our Orkney mailing list to keep up to date with the latest news and get the chance to win a special prize.