Don your Tartan for the 25th Annual Celtic Classic

By Angela Bristow

Maireann croí éadrom I bhfad. If you understand that Irish saying without the translation, “a light heart lives longest,” then you may be following your light heart to the 25th Annual Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival September 28-30, in Historic Bethlehem. According to Jayne Ann Recker, Executive Director, Celtic Cultural Alliance, the organization which hosts the Celtic Classic, “Over 30 percent of the population in the Valley claim to have Celtic roots.” Adding, “There are lots of people who come from all different backgrounds, in addition to those of Irish descent.”

The Celtic Classic boasts four stages of continuous entertainment, plus various stands and displays promoting Celtic culture and heritage. “We’re the largest Celtic festival in North America,” says Recker.  The Celtic Classic draws more than 250,000 people each year, approximately 60 percent of whom come from outside the area and abroad.

The Celtic Classic is host to the U.S. National Championship of the Highland Games which originated in medieval Scotland. The top 10 qualifying athletes will compete in five events of skill, including lifting of heavy stone, throwing the hammer and tossing the caber (large wooden pole). These competitions take place throughout the festival on the Highland Field.

The Celtic Classic is a family friendly event with activities for adults and children of all ages, and all events – except the whiskey-tasting event – are free. Some of the crowd-pleasing events include a haggis eating contest, a Border Collie exhibition, a drum major competition, pipe band and fiddle competitions, Highland dance competitions and multiple musical performances.

The musical line-up is impressive again this year, including the Irish music of the Barley Boys, the traditional Celtic instrumentation and modern rhythms of Blackwater, Burning Bridget Cleary and many others. The performances are spread across four locations over the three-day event.

One of the new entertainment acts this year is Ice Wagon Flu, a five-man group from outside Philadelphia, which has been bringing their fun twist on Celtic rock to audiences since 2001. They will be performing Friday (September 28) at 4:30 p.m. in the Grand Pavilion.

Those looking to put a little spring in their step will want to catch some of the fantastic Highland Dance Competition to be held on Saturday (September 29) from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Grand Pavilion. Scottish Highland dancing is a combination of strength, agility, movement, music and costume. The Highland Dances will include the Highland Fling, the Sword Dance, the Seann Triubhas, and The Reels. The more modern National Dances, including the Irish Jig and the Sailor’s Hornpipe, will also be performed.

Through the purchase of food and beverage tickets, Celtic Classic attendees can enjoy traditional lamb stew, shepherd’s pie, colcannon, pulled pork barbeque smoked over peat, fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage and five different kinds of beer, including Guinness. For those who prefer more traditional festival fare, sausage sandwiches, fries, tacos, soda, funnel cakes, roasted nuts, and chocolate-covered strawberries will also be available.

This year’s Whiskey Tasting will be hosted by The Glenlivet and Jameson Premier Scotch distilleries. This special event charges a fee and requires advance registration, as each session is limited to 40 participants. Representatives from the distilleries will be on hand to answer questions and discuss the history of their fine Scotch whiskeys.

The Haggis Eating Contest hosts 25 contestants vying for the title Celtic Classic Haggis Eating Champion. The competition begins at 5:15 p.m. on Friday on the Highland Field in downtown Bethlehem.

Be sure to also check out the 70 vendors of traditional Irish crafts, such as hand-knit sweaters, jewelry, photos, kilts, glassware, home and garden items, pottery, woodworking, and everything and anything Celtic.

The kids will enjoy the Kids Craft Tent and the whole family will clap their hands at Saturday’s Showing of the Tartan Parade beginning at 11:30 a.m. on the Highland Field. The fiddle competition also takes place Saturday at the Ice House beginning at 9:00 a.m. and the Grade 4 and 3 Pipe Band Competitions take place Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Piping Grove.

In addition to parking lots and garages on Union Boulevard, North Street, and Walnut Street, a shuttle will be running between the Martin Towers’ parking lot on 8th Avenue in Bethlehem and the main festival area.  For more information and to view the full schedule of events please visit

Jayne Ann Recker, Executive Director
Celtic Cultural Alliance
532 Main Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018

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