The 28th annual Celtic Classic attracts hundreds of thousands to Bethlehem to celebrate Celtic traditions

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For over 25 years, the Bethlehem community has been celebrating Celtic heritage with traditional food, entertainment and sport during the annual Celtic Classic.

The Celtic Classic was first thought of 29 years ago when Bethlehem residents wanted a way to celebrate the prominent Celtic heritage in the Lehigh Valley.

Over 700 volunteers and 150 committee members work to pull the event together each year.

“At least 35 percent of the Bethlehem residents believe they have Celtic roots,” Jayne Ann Recker, the executive director of the Celtic Classic, said.

Recker said that Bethlehem’s festival is the largest free Celtic Classic in North America. The celebration grows every year, bringing in approximately 275,000 people over the span of the weekend. She attributed the festival’s success to the percentage of Bethlehem residents with Celtic roots, along with the Irish population in Philadelphia.

The festival will begin on Friday and last through Sunday. It will includes games, music, food and traditional Celtic souvenirs such as clothing, jewelry, artwork and crests.

“We are the host of the U.S. National Championships of the Highland Games,” Recker said. “Athletes come from all over the world to compete in games such as the caber toss, sheaf toss and Breamar stone throw.”

Professional athletes from all over the world are not the only sports teams to make an appearance at the festival. The Lehigh women’s track team also attends, as they help set up equipment between game rounds.

Recker also said that, every year, a group of Lehigh students chant and sing as they walk across the bridge onto the North Side to kick off the festival.

The first event of the weekend is Haggis Bowl 2015. Each competitor is given 1 pound of haggis, a traditional, savory pudding, and the goal is to finish eating it as quickly as possible. The winner takes home bragging rights and $25 worth of Celtic Classic food and drink tickets.

Recker said that although Lehigh students are always there to cheer on the competitors, she would love to see one compete.

In addition to the games, the festival boasts plenty of music, with several live performers across six stages. New entertainers come every year, with some traveling from as far as Ireland and Scotland. The artists vary from rock bands to folk musicians and bagpipers.

Co-Chair of Operations Jim Rowden said that his favorite part of the weekend is the Celtic rock music. His favorite group is the Glengarry Bhoys from Canada, who have been performing at the Celtic Classic since the very beginning.

Several traditional Irish Dance troupes will also be taking the stage over the weekend, including the O’Grady-Quinlin Academy of Irish Dance, which has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

There will be traditional Celtic food, such as corned beef and shepherd’s pie, as well as options such as chicken fingers and French fries.

Thomas Casey, chairman of the food and beverage committee, said that in addition to beer, this year’s festival will feature Irish whiskey.There will be whiskey tasting on both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available on the Celtic Fest website.

According to Recker, in addition to the scheduled events, there will be a surprise event that will take place on Saturday at 12:45 p.m. It’s an event he says people won’t want to miss.

The 28th annual Celtic Classic Highland Games and Festival will kick off Friday at 5 p.m.

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