ITASCA – Whether Scottish by birth, heritage or inclination, attendees of the 28th annual Highland Games and Scottish Festival are in for an exciting and memorable experience.
Hosted by the Chicago Scots, the event will take place Friday and Saturday amid the beautiful backdrop of Hamilton Lakes in Itasca.
“It's like going to Scotland for the day without flying to Scotland,” Chicago Scots President Gus Noble said. “This is the largest and best Scottish festival in the Midwest.”
Participants come from across the region and even as far as Canada for what Noble describes as an “awesome event.”
The festivities kick off at 4 p.m. Friday and continue through 10 p.m. with exhibits, vendors, competitions and more. Contests include the Highland Dance Competition, Heavy Athletics, Rugby Exhibition and Friday Night Fling.
The evening will continue with the crowning of the Heather Queen and Court and a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee), a celebration of Celtic music, from 7 to 10 p.m. on the Celtic Rock Stage.
The festivities on Saturday will take place between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. with many activities, beginning with the Championship Supreme Piping and Drumming competition. Then it's on to the Heavy Athletics U.S. Open Championship featuring traditional Scottish contests, including the Caber Toss, flipping a 20-foot, 140-pound tree trunk; 22-pound Hammer Throw; Sheaf Toss, flipping a bale of hay over a high bar; and the Clashnert, throwing a 16-pound river stone.
The day continues with programming for all ages including the Rugby Sevens Highland Challenge, Coerver Cup 3v3 youth soccer tournament, Dogs of Scotland and other animal presentations, genealogy and cultural exhibits, Parade of Clan Tartans, whiskey tasting, and attendee competitions, such as the Kilted Mile Fun Run/Walk, British Car Show, Knobbly Knees contest for men and more.
Featured children's festivities include mini golf, crafts and carnival attractions, as everyone is treated to musical performances on the Celtic Rock Stage.
Traditional Scottish and American cuisine and shopping in the Celtic Marketplace will be offered as well.
The closing ceremonies include the Massed Bands Show, described as a breathtaking spectacle of 1,000 bagpipers and drummers coming together to perform several traditional musical selections, including "Amazing Grace," which is played in honor of those who have passed.
“It is such a moving sight and sound,” Noble said. “It moves you to tears.”
For many years, Hamilton Lakes' expansive grounds have been an ideal location for the Highland Games, allowing the event to grow. Additionally, Noble noted the facility has its roots in Scotland, and the village of Itasca has been very welcoming.
“It’s a win-win for both parties,” Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn said. “It’s been a great event for the village and has brought several thousand to Itasca.”
The Chicago Scots celebrate Scottish identity to support the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. The charity, established in 1845, encourages Scottish identity through service, fellowship and celebration of Scottish culture. Additionally, the society offers a range of elder care services at its Scottish Home.
Festival proceeds directly support the mission of the society, including the home.
If you go
What: Highland Games and Scottish Festival
When: 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hamilton Lakes, I-290 and Thorndale Avenue, Itasca
Cost: Children 12 and younger – free, adults – $12 on Friday; children younger than 2 – free, children 3 to 12 – $5, adults – $20 on Saturday; two-day passes: children younger than 2 – free, children 3 to 12 – $5, adults – $30; other special passes available
For more event information, visit www.chicagoscots.org or call 708-447-5092.