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A Highland fling. September 23, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If you live within reach of scenic Bethlehem, PA, and you (like yours truly) have a weakness for men in kilts, and/or love watching the Highland Games, Pipe Band competitions with plenty of bagpipe action, great Celtic music, and/or all things Celtic, don’t miss this weekend’s 23rd Annual Celtic Classic. It’s held in the historic Moravian section of Bethlehem, so you can see some marvelous, unique 18th-Century architecture while you’re strolling around taking in the sights, examining Celtic crafts, listening to Celtic music, or wolfing down traditional Celtic food (and, of course, beer).

The Celtic Classic kicks off on Friday afternoon around 4:30 with a Border collie exhibition, invitational caber toss, haggis-eating contest, Irish step dancing, and plenty of music, including Celtic groups like Blackwater, Glengarry Bhoys, Enter the Haggis, and Barleyjuice. The action continues on Saturday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. (yow!). But don’t look for me and our friend Ben to show up much before 4, when our favorite events happen in rapid succession: the caber toss, Border collie exhibition, drum major competition, and massed (pipe) bands. After all that excitement, OFB and I will be in major need of refreshment. Please don’t tell anyone, but we’re planning to bypass the haggis and head up to the main street to eat at the wonderful Kenyan restaurant, Alando’s Kitchen, instead.

Let me say a word in praise of the caber toss, in which men perform—or attempt to perform—a feat that is seemingly beyond human agility and endurance. In the caber toss, a man must lift a pole the diameter of a telephone pole and up to 18 feet long straight up off the ground, run forward, keeping it balanced upright, then toss it end-over-end so it lands in a straight line from the direction he’s facing. The sight of kilt-clad men hoisting telephone poles aloft in this fashion is incomprehensible—your brain can’t credit what your eyes are seeing. Admittedly, most of the athletes fail to make much headway with the caber, but we’ve seen one, James McGoldrick, who could make the toss almost every time. It’s a thrilling thing to watch.

The massed bands are thrilling, too, at least if you love drum tattoos and bagpipes (not to say the aforementioned men in kilts, and gentlemen, there are girls in kilts in those bands as well). Seeing the bands saunter onto the field in perfectly synchronized formation, hearing the drums pounding and the bagpipe music swelling, would make anyone’s heart beat faster. You can instantly see why the British used these bands to pipe their troops to battle.

The Celtic Classic continues on Sunday, also beginning at 9:30 a.m. (There’s an ecumenical service at 10 if you’d like to combine church and festival attendance.) More Highland games, more bagpipes, more kilts, more collies, more Celtic music, dance, food, crafts, souvenirs, and fun, culminating in a performance by The Red Hot Chilli Pipers at 6:30.

If you’d like to bring the kids, please don’t be daunted by the ubiquitous beer: The Celtic Classic is very family-friendly, with tons of fun events specifically for kids as well as performances the whole family will love. Much to OFB’s horror, I always like to get a spray-on Celtic tattoo at the Classic, lining up proudly with the 8-to-12 crowd and choosing my Welsh dragon or Celtic knot with glee. (Hey, with Scottish and Irish as well as British ancestry, I figure I’m entitled. But I still haven’t persuaded OFB to get one.)

So come one, come all, and enjoy a Highland fling! You can find out all about the festival, get a complete schedule of events, and see lots of photos of the goings-on at the official website, http://www.celticfest.org/. And should you happen to see a short, enthusiastic dark-haired woman dragging around a tall, rather stunned-looking blond-haired man, please come up and introduce yourselves. We’d love to meet you!

             ‘Til next time,


Of Celts, kilts and cabers. September 23, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , ,

Silence Dogood here. This Friday, Saturday and Sunday mark the return of one of our favorite festivals, the Celtic Classic, to historic Bethlehem, PA. The Classic is held in the part of town that showcases a restored Moravian village from the 1700s, with such fabulous architecture that it’s worth a trip to see by itself. But of course, the festival is about all things Scottish and Irish, with Highland games, pipe band competitions, live music of every kind, from traditional ballads to Celtic rock, Border collie trials (typically herding ducks, not sheep, due to space constraints), Irish step dancing, and every conceivable kind of Celtic-themed food, drink and souvenir, from clothes and jewelry to swords and heraldic family emblems. There’s even a (gack) haggis-eating contest.

It’s a big, big festival, and there’s lots to see and do. We enjoy it all, especially in the beautiful fall weather. But our favorite events are the pipe band competitions and the caber toss.

A confession here: Our friend Ben and I both find pipe bands thrilling, the roar of the bagpipes and the beat of the drums. But I love them for another reason, too: the chance to see men in kilts. Scots get a lot of grief for wearing kilts, but let me tell you, a well-worn kilt is a sexy thing. I realized this a number of years ago when our friend Ben and I went to see a bagpipe competition between an American piper and a Scot. Each held the stage alone during his performance. The American was quite good. But he stood stiffly and looked awkward the whole time, very earnestly concentrating on his playing and perhaps wondering “Why do I have to wear this stupid skirt?!!” Then it was the Scot’s turn. While he played, he moved. He strolled. He strutted. He sashayed. He was mesmerizing. I of course couldn’t stop talking about this on the way home, and strange to say, we’ve never been to a bagpipe competition since. But the Celtic Classic pipe band competitions are a great way to see several hundred men in kilts at once, so I can get my hit for the year.

But let me stop drooling here and talk about the caber toss, the most extraordinary athletic feat I’ve ever seen. How any man could do this—and what on earth could have prompted any man to think of doing this in the first place—is beyond me. Basically, a caber is a 13- to 18-foot-long telephone pole. A bunch of men pick it up and carry it lengthwise to the athlete (usually wearing football shorts under his kilt, which is basically only worn for form’s sake), and then they arduously stand the heavy pole upright. At which point the athlete lifts the telephone pole, still upright, runs forward with it, and tosses it end-over-end. Which is to say, waaayyyy up in the case of a 13- to 18-foot pole. The winner not only has to get a perfect end-over-end toss, but the pole has to land in exact alignment with him.

And, folks, people do this. Most competitors tend to make a token effort at the caber toss and hope to win the Highland games based on other events, but I’ve seen at least two athletes who could consistently triumph at the caber toss, seemingly defying every law of gravity (not to mention relative size and weight) at once.

Because it’s such an extraordinary event, and victory is so unlikely, the crowds tend to pile onto the bleachers when the caber toss is announced. Every effort is met with cheers of encouragement and groans of dismay. And, on those rare occasions when someone actually succeeds, a deafening roar of approval rises from the stands. Trust me, we’re shouting as loudly as any of them. It really is an amazing sight.

Check out this year’s Celtic Classic schedule, get directions, and see photos from previous years at http://celticfest.org/. Perhaps we’ll see you there! (Look for a tall, blond man looking dubiously at a short, dark-haired woman who’s staring a bit too intently at the sexier pipe band players. That would be us… )

          ‘Til next time,