By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com
It isn’t necessary to travel far to take a trip into foreign cultures.
That is particularly true in a diverse area like South Florida, where many nationalities celebrate their heritage and offer a glimpse into their traditions for anyone to share.
We didn’t have to hop a plane to get an authentic Scottish outlander fix, nor did we have to time-travel through an ancient stone circle to mingle with the clans and witness how they keep their deeply rooted traditions alive.
The Southeast Florida Scottish Festival and Highland Games were just a few miles from home in Plantation, Fla., appropriately staged at Heritage Park.
There were kilts and bagpipes galore as each clan marched in turn onto the big field behind their respective banners, proudly displaying their distinctive tartans and piping signature songs during the opening ceremony.
You didn’t have to be Scottish to feel inspired by the pageantry and the pipes. Especially when they all joined together for the mass march that signals the start of the weekend activities.
The March 2017 gathering was the 34th year for the SE Florida Highland Games They were a notable contrast to the better known Renaissance Faire which was celebrating its 25th anniversary 30 minutes away in Deerfield Beach at the same time in early March.
No question the Ren-Fest genre is wildly popular, packing in big crowds during a six-week run each year at Quiet Waters Park, and in many other places where similar events are held. A visit the week after the Highland Games reinforced why we’d avoided Ren-Fest for years: modern-day carney schlock disguised by a Medieval theme.
In less than an hour the competing scents of incense and echoes of “ma’lord” and “ma’lady” had worn thin and we beat a hasty exit. At least we’d gotten the discounted tickets at Walgreens ($4 off the $21 regular price per ticket), so for Ren-Fest fans be sure to take advantage of that next year.
Instead, we will return to the Highland Games, which are quirky, genuine and fun. The participants aren’t performing, they’re just carrying on in the spirit of their ancestors.
The centerpiece event of the Games was the caber toss, in which kilt-wearing competitors (men and women) take turns struggling to lift and gain control of an 18-foot wooden pole before attempting to flip it end over end. The objective is to get it to land pointing directly away from the thrower in the so-called 12 o’clock position.
The March wind is typically brisk in South Florida, and it was more breathy than the bag-pipers on this day. The strongest gusts always seemed to pipe up while some luckless thrower was staggering under the burden of the caper, with comical consequences.
The master of ceremonies added colorful commentary with insight into the competition and details about the athletes, some of whom were highly ranked caber practitioners.
The Highland Games put a premium on feats of strength. Most frightening but fascinating is Tossing the Weight, a competition in which burly brutes swing an iron weight on a chain upward in an attempt to clear a bar slightly behind them. With each toss comes the vision of Wile E. Coyote getting flattened by an anvil in every “Roadrunner” cartoon.
A similar event but less perilous was Tossing the Sheath, which involves flinging a 16-pound bale of hay in a jute sack with a pitchfork over the bar. It is easy to see how this evolved in an agrarian society.
While a sturdy troop of gamesmen and women were grunting and sweating, other attractions were in progress on the makeshift Highlands, including sheep dog demonstrations and traditional dancing.
One of the booths garnering most attention was Florida Outlander Fans, dedicated to the Starz TV series “Outlander” and best-selling novel by Diana Gabaldon. It was an opportunity to pose with life-size cutouts of heartthrob Jamie or sassenach Claire, depending on your preference.
All of which led to a serious thirst that was satisfied by a visit to a stand dispensing Gaelic Ale, a smooth amber brew from Highland Brewing Co. of Ashville, N.C.
The visit to the beer stand led to the discovery Scottish rock ‘n’ roll emanating from a big-top tent on the backside of the festival grounds. The band, one of several featured during the festival, was Rathkeltair, a Celtic roots rock group playing a catchy array of originals and covers.
If you haven’t heard rock music accentuated with a bagpipe, it is highly recommended. Best accompanied by a chilly Gaelic Ale draft.
South Florida heritage and cultural events
Here are some other annual festivals and celebrations of national heritage and cultural influences on the South Florida calendar:
Carnival Miami/Calle Ocho
South Florida Italian Festival
Arts and Cultural Festival in Little Havana
For festivals throughout Florida, visit: