Labor Day weekend in Tri-Valley won't be just an opportunity to celebrate the end of summer, but it will also be a weekend filled with kilts, bag pipes and the 149th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games.
The Scottish games, hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco, come to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton for the 20th time on tomorrow and Sunday.
Featuring unique dancing, athletic challenges and five buildings packing with Scottish vendors and food, the Scottish games' annual gathering in Pleasanton offers an opportunity to experience the sounds and tastes of Scotland.
"There is a very large Scottish community in the Greater Bay Area who have migrated to the U.S., many of whom have become U.S. citizens and many more U.S. born who have family ties and ancestry to Scotland," said Floyd Busby, the club's publicity chairman.
The Scottish games and athletic challenges can be traced back more than a thousand years in Scotland.
"Historians believe that Heavy Events originated during Druid times," states the San Francisco Caledonian Club website. "Heavy Events began as tests of strength and conditioning for Scottish troops. A tree trunk would be made into a caber and tossed by the strongest military men."
The Heavy Athletics event will include braemar and open stone throwing, heavy and light hammer games, weight for distance and height challenges and caber throwing, the challenge in which participants will take a long section of a tree trunk and throw it as far and high as possible.
These feats of strength will be displayed in front of the Fairgrounds grandstand, where several records have been broken by men and women athletes.
"Dating back to 1314, the Ceres Games in Fife are considered the oldest, continuous Highland Games," according to the Caledonian Club website. "The English government, during the Act of Proscription years, however, outlawed all Highland Games, including the Ceres Games. The Act banned all Scottish culture, including the wearing of kilts and playing the bagpipes."
Even with these interruptions, the games thrived and, with the addition of music and dancing, diverged from military tests into festivals for the public. Women began playing active roles in the production and participation of dances and athletic games.
The Caledonian Club of San Francisco, the largest Scottish club in the US, held their first game complete with family picnics and athletic contests in November of 1866 at the corner of 12 Market Street in SF. The club began as some seventeen Scots who arrived in California among a large influx of Scottish migrants seeking the California coast for gold, states the website.
The Club's games have since been held annually at various locations in San Francisco, Sausalito, Oakland and Santa Rosa, before settling in Alameda County in 1994.
"The Alameda County Fairgrounds is the second largest county fairgrounds in California," said Busby. "We simply were running out of room at our former site and now nearly fill the current fairgrounds."
Opening ceremony is set to begin at 12:30 p.m. at the Grandstand with the arrival of chief guests, parade of the clans and kilted mile race.
The grandstand will also feature performances from the Pipes and Drums 1st Battalion Scots Guards, the Third Marine Aircraft Wing Band and the Western U.S. Open Highland Dancing Championships, which will include Scottish country dancing.
"When the 1st Battalion Pipes and Drums Scots Guards and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band from Miramar converge together in integrated formation in front of the grandstands during the afternoon "Massed Bands" concert," said Busby. "the public will be viewing a very special event that in most years can only be witnessed in Pleasanton."
The games will also be holding a pipe band competition for over thirty competing bands in various divisions. At the end of both days, the bands will play together at the Massed Bands show in front of the Grandstand.
Four stages will be set up around the gathering and will feature performances by traditional and Celtic rock bands including Browne Sisters, Michael Mullen, Brother, Golden Bough and several others.
The games will also include a Living History event, in which history enthusiasts are taken back in time to learn about historical events in Scottish past.
Other activities include: five-aside soccer, rugby and shinty tournaments, a British car and motorcycle show, a Children's Glen event which will include games and crafts for kids, an archery exhibit, whiskey tasting, sheepdog trials, a display of Clydesdale horses, Highland cattle and birds of prey and Irish step dancing performances.
Five buildings and many outdoor areas will be dedicated to over 100 hand selected vendors who will provide a variety of unique, hand -made goods such as kilt ware, crafts and food. Booths will exhibit art, history and music of the Scottish. Kids booths will feature kids collectibles, face painting, pony rides and more.
The Glen of Clans event will provide information about Scottish heritage and genealogy.
Registered Scottish clans and societies will set up booths and tents.
Gates will open at the fairgrounds at 8 a.m. each day and close at 6:30 p.m. Athletics will begin at 8:30 a.m. while other activities will begin at 10 a.m.
Tickets are $21 for adults and $28 for a two day pass. Teens ages 12-17 and seniors pay $13, and children under 11 are free. Tickets can also be purchased online at discount rates.
For more information, visit the Scottish games website or call (888) 769-2345.