All things Scotland -- kilts, bagpipes, scotch whisky and highland cows, to name a few -- return to Pleasanton this Labor Day weekend as part of an annual celebration of Scottish heritage.
Hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco, the 157th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games will take place this Saturday and Sunday at the Alameda County Fairgrounds with the same goal as the original event back in 1866: highlighting Scottish culture, heritage and traditions for all to enjoy.
"To us, this event means honoring our culture through music, dance and costume. It's been a gathering of family and friends, old and new, for the past 157 years," said Ron Dunne, first chieftain of the Caledonian Club of San Francisco.
"I love the culture, the games and everything the club stands for," Dunne added.
Dunne said he first became involved with the organization over three decades ago after his father-in-law was a prominent member of the club.
"My wife is a first generation Scottish-American. Her father, John Johnston, was a past chief of the Caledonian Club of San Francisco and heavy chairman," Dunne said. "I have been a 37-year member of the club now holding several different chairman and officer positions."
This weekend, more than 20 Scottish events are scheduled to take place at the fairgrounds. Many of the fan favorites will make a return this year, including the Scottish Athletics, music competitions, dancing and animal exhibitions. Additionally, the iconic whisky tasting event will showcase a variety of Irish, Scottish and American whiskies.
Live music will include Celtic rock bands Albannach and Tempest, fiddlers and more.
"When people think of Scotland, they think of bagpipes. We'll have plenty of that, (as well as) drum major competitions, Scottish country dancers, sheep dog trials, heavy athletes throwing the caber (telephone poles), to mention a few," Dunne said. "Vendors will be there too selling Scottish candy, grocery items, kilts and Celtic jewelry."
The popular "Living History" area of the festival shows off live historical reenactments from medieval Scottish history. One performance features the famous Mary Queen of Scots who lived from 1542 to 1587.
"My personal favorite of the gathering would have to be the closing ceremonies at the end of each day with the mass bands playing in unison together," Dunne said. "It is a sight to see when a hundred or more pipers and drummers all play together."
Organizer and co-chairman of the Scottish Athletics, Tom Kincaid, shared his thoughts on the upcoming event with the Weekly.
"Pleasanton's festival is the third largest Scottish Games in the United States," Kincaid said. "There are three main events that draw everybody to it -- it's the Scottish highland athletics, the bagpipers and the dancers."
"This year there are 10 athletes competing, there are eight events that they will compete in over the weekend," Kincaid explained. "They will throw one weight, one stone, one hammer on Saturday and Sunday. During the afternoon on the race track, they will toss a caber weight over the bar and the sheaf as well."
The caber toss is known as a traditional Scottish athletic activity that dates back to the 1500s. The athlete, or thrower, tosses a large tapered pole called a caber that can vary in length from 16 to 22 feet. Each pole can weigh up to 100 and 180 pounds.
Similar to the caber toss, the sheaf toss is another traditional sport designed as a show of strength. Athletes will lift and throw a bundle of straw (a sheaf) weighing up to 20 pounds vertically in the air.
Kincaid shared that the athletic section of the games has always been his favorite part. Having been involved for over 25 years, he feels a strong sense of community within the group.
"At 1 p.m. in the afternoon, the grandstand fills up completely. Then, athletes stand on the tarmac in front of the stands for spectators to watch the Highland Athletics take place," Kincaid said.
"Watching the athletes do each event is something I enjoy. I also enjoy the camaraderie and the fellowship. It's a family that I've created over all these years by attending the games," Kincaid added.
In his youth, Kincaid was inspired to take part as a competitor before eventually becoming a judge and athletic organizer.
"I first attended the games in the early '90s when it moved to the Pleasanton fairgrounds. I attended it with my older brother and we learned about our family heritage there," Kincaid added. "When I saw the athletes throw in the caber toss and other events, I felt I could do that so I started competing as an athlete. I saw it as an athlete, then I became an athletic director and ran the games in Oakland at the Dunsmuir house."
Another athletic event at the festival highlights one of Scotland's biggest cultural symbols -- the kilt. The "kilted mile" takes place at 10 a.m. each day of the games. The event is free for all to partake in; the only requirement is that participants must be wearing a kilt.
Historically, the kilt has signified masculinity, patriotism and honor in Scotland and other nations. They can be recognized by the tartan or plaid patterned fabrics.
Special care is shown to the garments between each wear. Several kilting demonstrations will be held in the "Living History" section of the grounds.
Also available at the games will be a medley of classic Scottish food such as haggis, fish and chips and meat pies, along with other culinary offerings.
Organizers have said the Caledonian Club of San Francisco dedicates itself to preserving all forms of Scottish culture, from literature to costumes to music and art. It is one of the oldest Scottish societies in the nation.
The games will be open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 2-3) at the fairgrounds in central Pleasanton. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://thescottishgames.com.