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The Highland Life: Scottish Festivals

The Highland Life: Scottish Festivals

Spring is finally here, which means the festival season is getting underway in the Midwest. You’ll find festivals celebrating everything from cherries to pickles over the next six months or so. Of course, some of my favorites are the Scottish festivals. In more temperate parts of the U.S. you’ll find Scottish festivals throughout the year. In the Midwest, most of them take place between mid-May and mid-October.

I live in the Chicago area, so I’m partial to the Chicago Scots annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games, which take place on June 16 and 17 this year. I’ve also enjoyed festivals in Michigan and Indiana, and as far away as Arizona and Hawaii.

What Will You Find at Typical Scottish Festivals?

Highland games are a central feature of most festivals. These days they’re often called heavy or heavyweight games. Traditional heavyweight competitions include the caber toss, sheaf toss, stone put, hammer throw, and weight for height and distance. If you’re not familiar with heavy athletics, the Minnesota Scottish Fair & Highland Games has some great explanations and photos in the Heavy Games section of its website. These competitions aren’t just for men in kilts; there are often competitions for women and youth as well. In addition to heavy games, there may also be rugby, hurling, and lacrosse tournaments, and 5K races.

You’ll also find lots of Scottish dancing, and music ranging from pipe bands and traditional fiddle playing to Celtic rock. There will be clan associations and societies, children’s activities, and vendors selling kilts, jewelry, and Celtic memorabilia. There’s usually some traditional Scottish food mixed in with the fairground food offerings. We always look forward to meat pies, sausage rolls, bridies, and scones at the Chicago Scots festival. You’ll often find whisky tastings and British car shows, and there may be shortbread and soda bread bake-offs and haggis tossing competitions. Animal activities can include sheepdog herding demonstrations, displays of Highland cattle, and falconry shows.

The New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival website has a great video showing some of the delights that await you at a typical Scottish festival.

Midwest Highlights

One of the highlights of the Midwest festival scene is the Alma Highland Festival and Games in Alma, Michigan, which always takes pride of place on Memorial Day weekend. Other regional highlights include the Glasgow Highland Games in Glasgow, Kentucky (June 2-4); the Milwaukee Scottish Fest & Highland Games in Wisconsin (June 3; the famous Milwaukee Irish Fest takes place August 17-20); the Ohio Scottish Games in Wellington, Ohio (June 23-24); the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games in Eagan, Minnesota (July 15); the Columbus Scottish Festival in Columbus, Indiana (September 9-10); and the Indianapolis Scottish Highland Games & Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana (October 14).

More Festivals

Of course, this is just a sampling of the many Scottish festivals taking place in the coming months. To find festivals across the U.S., check out the Association of Scottish Games & Festivals website. It has a calendar as well as listings by state. It doesn’t include every festival, but there are quite a few. There are also a lot of Scottish festivals in the Celtic Life International Magazine event listings. The Celtic Life listings include all kinds of Celtic events from around the world, which makes them even more fun to explore.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for a little Scottish culture during the upcoming festival season. I would love to hear about your adventures!




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