The Celtic Classic originated 35 years ago, when friends of Celtic descent came up with the idea of a Celtic themed festival. Later on, the Highland Games were added to the plan, along with other events that are now festival traditions.
The Celtic Cultural Alliance hosted the 35th annual Celtic Classic the weekend of Sept. 23 in Downtown Bethlehem.
The Celtic Classic aims to preserve Celtic culture and heritage through education, music, traditional athletic competitions, piping and dancing.
Jayne Ann Recker, executive director of the Celtic Cultural Alliance, said the event is known as the largest Celtic festival in North America, attracting nearly a quarter million people annually.
Highlights of the weekend included an Invitational Pipe Band Competition, the US National Highland Athletic Championships, the Showing of the Tartan parade, a haggis eating competition, a fiddle playing competition and the Cultural Children’s Activity Area.
Recker said the alliance began looking for performers to feature in June 2021 for the 2022 festival.
“Between recruiting 500 volunteers, performers, food vendors, and all the logistics of building the festival, it takes a year (to plan),” Recker said.
Recker said over 40 food vendors and 60 retail merchants were in attendance selling Celtic goods from Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic countries.
She said the attractions at the festival displayed a variety of Celtic heritage from all over the world. Athletes hailed from all over the country to perform, and piping bands came from Canada.
Amanda Mircovich, ‘25, attended the festival on Saturday.
“The Celtic Classic was a great time and everyone there seemed excited to celebrate their culture,” Mircovich said. “It was seen through their enthusiasm (for) the music, food and atmosphere. It was a great time.”
Recker said nine out of 10 food vendors live within a 10 mile radius of Bethlehem, and they rely on local businesses to support the event.
The festival attracts Lehigh Valley residents as well as outside visitors. Recker said the successful turnout is accredited to the heritage of the Lehigh Valley: 33% of the Lehigh Valley has Celtic roots, she said.
Festival-goers could be seen wearing traditional Celtic clothing, such as kilts and flat caps.
Recker said some volunteers and committee members have been a part of the event for all 35 years.
A volunteer named Sue said she has been working in the finance sector of the festival for five years, counting the money made at the festival.
“I think the festival is more or less to make sure the families have fun,” Sue said. “(I) love working here, absolutely love it.”
Recker said the Celtic Cultural Alliance has seen a recent decline in volunteers, yet it reinforces the importance of younger people becoming involved in the Celtic Classic to keep the festival alive.
“Volunteerism is something you do because you want to,” Recker said. “You are interested in it, you are passionate about it and you want to learn about it. If we don’t start building that new base of community, such as gaining new committee members, volunteers and board of directors, it doesn’t go on.”
Recker and the other committee members and volunteers have been preparing in Bethlehem for three weeks for the event. After this year’s conclusion will come the planning for the 2023 Celtic Classic.