The Utah Scottish Festival and Highland Games

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This last weekend was the The Utah Scottish Festival and Highland Games, an annual tradition within the Scottish American community. They were held at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, and all that attended had a blast.

The games represent a yearly tradition within my family, at least since before I had been married. I used the games as a "test" to see if my then girl friend would be able to handle the pipes, the kilts, and the food that identify my heritage. She was (though just barely on the kilt), and we got married. ^_^

We have since returned every year, and now I can take my son in his kilt made by his grandmother so that he can enjoy the games as a kilted member of the MacFarlane clan. For those who know me well this isn't anything new, but for those that don't may be wondering why this festival is so important to me. Well, there are a couple of reasons why I feel it necessary to continue the tradition of my forefathers:

The Sense of Identity
Everyone intrinsically searches for some type of identification of self. Some people find joining into the latest fashions a good way to identify themselves, while others look for personal achievements. Others look to their heritage, and wish to keep those traditions alive. As I am an historian, I choose my heritage to identify who I am.

Part of that centers squarely within Scotland. Most of my ancestry comes from the Highlands of Scotland, or from the Borderlands. My namesake comes from a carriage maker in Perth that left Scotland to avoid prosecution (as opposed to persecution). Yes, he left (according to legend) because he threw a spanner onto the front seat of Queen Victoria's favorite carriage. Unfortunately, it had to go through the dashboard to get there.

Others left because of their religious convictions, generally because they were heading to Utah to join with the main body of the Mormon faith. Still others left to support the American Revolution against Great Britain. All in all, the majority of my family came to the United States from Scotland, and as such I have a soft spot in my heart for the land that bore my ancestors.

A Sense of Family
In my mind, being a Scottish American means that you have a strong sense of family ties, and those ties are very loosely defined. That means that friends, relatives, and neighbors can be considered part of the "clan", and you will do all that you can to protect them. This, in my opinion, defines the Clan mentality, and why communities can be tied together by names and associations.

The Food (Believe it or Not)
The Festival is one of the few places where you can order meat pies, shortbread, and haggis. Yes, you can get haggis at the festival. It's really good, too! My son even liked his little taste.

For those that are unfamiliar with haggis, it is a dish made with sheep heart, liver, and lung ground up with some spices and oatmeal. It's then stuffed into a casing (traditionally a sheep's stomach), and then boiled and baked until ready to serve. It's a traditional staple of Robbie Burns Night, and also considered one of the most daring foods to eat.

But, for those who are a little squeamish regarding such a meal, they had the traditional summer fare (burgers, hot dogs, roast turkey legs), with the addition of Fish and Chips and an Australian Grill. It all looked so good, but as I go there every year for the haggis, I stuck with tradition. But, if for nothing else, I would recommend the Haggis for the experience. ^_^

The Clan
For years the MacFarlane clan was not represented at the Highland Games, for various reasons. Starting about 7 years ago, a family from Jackson Hole Wyoming started coming as they participated in the contests (the hammer throw). It's now a tradition to walk by while viewing the exhibits to yell, "Loch Sloy!" to the clan. That's the gathering call for the MacFarlane clan, and it's our way of identifying each other. ^_^

The Games
While I don't get to see all the contestants because of a grumpy toddler, the games do interest me. There are several, some of which are akin to track and field events:

1. Tossing the Stone: tosses a regulation weight stone (each a different shape, because it's a real rock) for distance.
2. Tossing the Weight: A weight on a chain is tossed for distance.
3. Tossing the Hammer: A weight at the end of a handle is tossed for distance.
4. Tossing the Sheaf: using a pitchfork, the sheaf (bag filled with hay) is tossed up over a bar for height.
5. Weight over the Bar: A 56-pound weight is tossed over a bar for height.
6. Tossing the Caber: The caber is an 18 foot long pole weighing between 80 to 120 pounds, and is tossed for height and form (how it lands).

For more information, check out, the website for the Utah Scottish Association.

The Animals
Every year they have a sheepdog contest, where sheepdogs herd their sheep from one end of the pitch to the other. The sheep also generally tend to be Highland Sheep, a specific breed. Once in a while (though not this last year), they will also have Highland Cows. Also, once in a while, Brittish dogs are put on display. If you have never seen the Scottish Deer Hound up close, it's an experience I would recommend.

The Pipes
They have professional piper competitions, as well as popular Celtic bands that come and perform. The Wicked Tinkers are an annual event in and of themselves. ^_^ They also have Highland dancing, and Irish dancing competitions. If you are interested in these traditional dancing styles, it's a great event to participate in.

All in all, it was a great experience. I would highly recommend it for anyone, whether you are Scottish or not. After all, learning about other ethnicities allow us to take pride in our own while respecting others.

All in all, the festival is a great experience for anyone that would l