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09.30.09

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Phaedra

Throw It Like Ye Stole It!: A Scots lass takes a crack at the hammer toss.

The Santa Cruz Celtic Festival's Clannish Ayes

The Scottish Games and Celtic Festival hikes up its kilt and makes the journey from Ben Lomond to Santa Cruz.

By Rula al-Nasrawi


AFTER 13 years of hosting the Scottish Games and Celtic Festival in Ben Lomond, the Loch Lomond Celtic Society made the recent decision to cancel its annual event, leaving dozens of loyal attendees kiltless and with nowhere to go. Luckily, with a new sponsor, the Games have moved to a strange new place where the local sport is riding waves and cloaked teenage runaways roam the streets. Let's face it--Santa Cruz is a far cry from Scotland, and we cannot help but wonder if our lazy beach town is truly ready for the downpour of bagpipes, kilts and haggis. Chieftain Jeff Simpson is ready to prove us wrong.

Simpson is one of the main reasons this event has thrived for the past 13 years, although he would be the last to admit it. Simpson, a man with a hearty laugh and a taste for tartan, was one of the originators of the Games in 1996, and his emotional ties with them run deep. Upon the event's cancellation in Ben Lomond due to rising costs, Simpson and a few others made it a point to find a new sponsor--the International Clan MacFarlane Society--and location in order to resurrect the event.

"I'm sad [the games are] not in Ben Lomond, but I'm excited it's still going," Simpson says. "If you stop, you lose that momentum, and I didn't want to see that happen."

Although Highlands Park--the original location--provided a spacious and scenic backdrop for the Scottish Games, it lacked accessibility. The Loch Lomond Society spent much of its money simply busing people in from Santa Cruz and other locations. And as the accessibility got lower, the costs got higher.

"San Lorenzo [Park] is much more accessible. People can walk or take the bus, and there will be parking at the County Building," Simpson says. "It was a combination of growing costs and they were a little shy of doing it this year."

The event is set to take place on Saturday, Oct. 3, and although it will only last one day, the schedule is completely packed with all things Scottish--from meat pies and Celtic rock to kilt booths and a visit from Mary Queen of Scots and her entourage.

While Simpson and the members of the International Clan MacFarlane Society are slightly apprehensive about hosting the event on new grounds, they also expect a lucky year. During the first year of the Scottish Games in Ben Lomond, a couple got married at the event, which organizers believe brought them luck for the year. This year for the first annual Santa Cruz Games, another couple plans to wed at the event, a gesture that Simpson and other society members recognize as a good omen.

In a concise history lesson, Simpson recount the birth of Scottish clans about 400 years ago. In an effort to bring people together to fight off the bloodthirsty Brits, wealthy Scot families with their own castle and surrounding land would form a clan, which loyal followers were able to join and pledge allegiance to, subsequently gaining the clan's protection. The story is 400-year-old proof that, for the Scots, family comes first.

Since its inception, the festival has always been notorious for its interesting cuisine, authentic music and intense heavyweight sports. The most popular of the Scottish athletic events is one commonly known as the caber toss, which consists of the player tossing a wooden pole end over end, and is subsequently judged on the straight angle of the throw.

Although Simpson is head over heels in love with his Scottish culture as a whole, he definitely knows one thing that keeps him coming back for more each year.

"The whiskey!" Simpson says, laughing. "It's definitely the feeling of extended family."

With the support of his very own clan--Clan Fraser--Simpson maintains a firm belief that although the event's Ben Lomond chapter may have ended forever, the new chapter here in our own quirky town by the sea will continue for years to come.

"It's important to educate people on what I feel to be a proud and ancient culture," Simpson said. "I'm looking forward to see it continue. To stand there and watch it go."

THE SANTA CRUZ SCOTTISH GAMES & CELTIC FESTIVAL is Saturday, Oct. 3, 10am-6pm at San Lorenzo Park, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 general/$10 students and seniors/free children 10 and under. For band and performance schedule visit www.santacruzscottishgames.com.


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