For Jayne Ann Recker, being able to host an in-person Celtic Classic this year is everything.
“For the organization to be without revenue for two years and for this to happen, we’re so excited,” said Recker, executive director of the Celtic Cultural Alliance, the non-profit organization that hosts the festival. “We are not out of the woods yet. The results of this festival will make the difference whether we can continue or not.
The Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival is set to return to downtown Bethlehem from September 24-26 with a full program of music, cultural competitions, the presentation of the tartan parade and more.
This is the 34th year for the festival, which was canceled last year due to statewide restrictions on large gatherings due to the pandemic.
Here’s the full rundown of everything you need to know about this year’s festival, complete with six stages of entertainment.
The event is billed as the largest free Celtic festival in North America.
The festival attracts every year more than 280,000 visitors. About 40% of them come from the Lehigh Valley and the rest come from the United States and abroad.
Times, dates, location: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on September 24; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on September 25; and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on September 26 in downtown Bethlehem. (Use 305 Conestoga St. for your GPS.)
Celtic Classic Shuttle: Head to 1525 Valley Center Parkway, Bethlehem and take the shuttle. No service on Friday. The shuttle will run from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday; and 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. The shuttle runs approximately every 20 to 30 minutes. How much: $4 for ages 6 and up per day; children 5 and under are free.
Parking available, all $10 per day: 75 W. North St.; 33 W. Walnut St.; and the West Union Boulevard parking lot.
The grounds of the Celtic Classic are wheelchair accessible, but it is a large site with grassy areas which can be difficult to navigate in a wheelchair.
Handicapped parking spaces are available on Conestoga Street and Lehigh Street. (You must have a state-issued sign to park there.) Disabled restrooms are located at Piping Grove, Grand Courtyard (near First Aid RV), and Main Street (across from Highland Field).
“We are not out of the woods yet. The results of this festival will make the difference whether we can continue or not.
— Jayne Ann Recker, Executive Director of the Celtic Cultural Alliance
The Celtic Cultural Alliance is working closely with Bethlehem Health Office officials and following all federal and state pandemic guidelines.
The majority of the festival takes place outdoors. The state does not have a mandate regarding outdoor masks.
“We encourage everyone to do what they need to at their own level of comfort,” Recker said. “If you want to wear a mask, we will encourage it.”
The city of Bethlehem has a mandate to wear masks in all buildings in the city. Masks will therefore be required inside the cooler.
“We want everyone to get down, enjoy the festival and be comfortable,” Recker said. “We will do everything we can to achieve this for them.”
The highlight of the weekend, the Showing of the Tartan Parade kicks off at 11:30 a.m. on September 25, featuring pipe bands, high school bands, dignitaries and more.
Tip: Arrive early for a good place to look.
The parade ends on Highland Field followed by opening ceremonies.
This year’s event will feature five stages of traditional Celtic music as well as Celtic rock and folk, totaling over 100 hours of free music.
Much like the organizers of Musikfest and Allentown Fair, the Celtic Cultural Alliance had to scramble to book numbers for the festival. For much of the start of the year, it was unclear whether vaccines would be widely available and what impact they would have and when.
“We had to do some quick pivots,” Recker said. “Basically, we did six months of work in three.”
Fan favorites such as the Kilmaine Saints and Seamus Kennedy will be back, along with newcomers Fig for a Kiss and the Chivalrous Crickets.
And this year, the festival will host Celtic Aire, the first Celtic band in the US Air Force, which will perform on Saturday and Sunday.
“They’re amazing,” said Recker, who mentioned them as one of the top picks to see at the festival.
Full schedule: celticfest.org/post-grids/entertainment/
This year marks the 14th time that Celtic Classic has hosted the American Highland Games Championship. You can watch competitors perform feats of strength, speed, agility and skill that were once commonplace at the various fairs, clan gatherings and tainchels, or great hunts, of medieval Scotland. The games feature events that have changed little since medieval times, including heavy rock lifting, hammer throwing, and caber throwing.
A classic Celtic tradition, the Haggis Bowl attracts competitors from as far away as Alaska to reign supreme as the best haggis eater.
Haggis is the national dish of Scotland, a type of savory pudding made from the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep or other animal, minced and mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with onion, cayenne pepper and other spices. . The mixture is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.
The contestant who eats a pound of haggis fastest wins.
You can watch the Haggis Bowl at 5:15 p.m. on September 24 at Highland Field.
Two other traditional competitions will be part of Celtic Classic: the Drum Major 2021 competition and the Pipe Band competition.
Celtic Heritage Hollow’s programming continues to focus on the culture of the seven Celtic nations. This area will host children’s activities, Celtic societies and clans and several cultural competitions.
Here are some important points:
11:30 a.m.: blacksmith demonstration
Noon: Irish soda bread contest
4 p.m.: Breezy Meadows Farm wool sheep demonstration
11:30 a.m.: Celtic Poetry Contest
12:15 p.m.: O’Grady Quinlan Academy of Irish Dance
2 p.m.: Freedom High School Celtic Ensemble
3 p.m.: Irish Sing A Long with John Kennedy (Kennedy’s Kitchen)
The Celtic Classic food vendor roster includes many festival favorites including: The Flying V, Heaven on a Bun, Take A Taco, Heidi’s Strudel, Aw Shucks and many more.
You will also find a diverse market of Celtic merchandise and collectibles.
Celtic Cultural Alliance website at celticfest.org.