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It happens once a year at the Orange County Fairgrounds, and this year, the festival organizers have graciously scheduled the event after Lag B’Omer and before Shavous. They may not realize it, but that is what they did. So on Sunday, May 24, 2009 you will have your chance to see hundreds of kilt-clad men participating in the “caber toss” and “putting the stone” (or throwing telephone polls and cannonballs, as my husband says) and playing bagpipes and drums.

You may be saying to yourself right now, “but I’m not up on the latest log throwing techniques, and I don’t think I like bagpipe music. Plus, I’m not Scottish.” It doesn’t matter. This is a really wonderful day. To see thousands of people gathered for good, clean, fun on a clear and fine day in Orange County—well, I think it will make you smile.

In one large field are the various athletic competitions where men attempt to throw heavy items as far as they can, and in a large tent near the entrance is the highland dance competition. Even though the competition consists of girls grouped by age, performing the same dance to the same music over and over, my daughter insisted I watch it with her at length. These girls are quite serious and have obviously practiced a lot. Plus, their dresses are nice.

Meanwhile, my husband was out perusing the different booths. There are stands for the usual fairground chatchkes, but then there are also vendors selling all sorts of things from the British Isles like cable knit sweaters, kilts, handmade jewelry, and linens. Sometimes, at fairs, it seems that food is the biggest feature, and consequently, there is not much of interest to us, but that is not the case at the Scottish Festival, and we were not the only ones to eat bag lunches on the grass while watching the games.

There was also a sheep herding demonstration in the main arena with border collies showing you how it’s done by herding real sheep into a pen. On the outskirts of the fairgrounds kids can enjoy slides, a moon bounce, and even archery.

But the highlight of the games is the pipe band competition. To me, there is something thrilling about a band of bagpipers playing an ancient folk tune from the Scottish highlands. And, after watching all the teams in their matching kilts, marching together and playing, just pipes and drums and nothing else, I had a greater appreciation for it. During the competitions, the judges, in kilts and dress jackets, stand very close to the participants and study them carefully. After a while, we were able to tell who the judges liked by how they kept time with the drums. Some of the more skilled drummers not only play their drums very strictly, but add flourishes while they are playing, tossing and spinning their drumsticks between the beats.

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It’s neat to see many of the men in the complete traditional outfit, which includes thick knitted socks, shoes that tie around the ankles, and even the “sgian dhu”, the black knife worn tucked into the sock. Meanwhile, all the announcements over the speaker systems are done by men with thick Scottish brogues, and there are booths with information about the different clans and what their clan tartan (plaid) is.

I’m not sure how else to put this, but it is refreshing to see a bunch of our fellow Californians, boys and girls, men and women, participating in good, clean fun, spending their extra-curricular activity time practicing an interesting skill, while carefully attired in kilts. There were more than a few yidden at the festival last year. I hope to see the whole Los Angeles contingent of our tribe there this year!

Notes:

Sunday May 24, 2009: Scottish Festival, Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, CA, www.scotsfest.com, $18 for adults, $3 for children (5-12) Extra fee for parking.