Tartan (n): A woolen cloth woven in one of several patterns of plaid, especially of a design associated with a particular Scottish clan.
Clan (n): A group of close-knit and interrelated families (especially associated with families in the Scottish Highlands).
Caber (n): A roughly trimmed tree trunk used in the Scottish Highland sport of tossing the caber.
Above are three words that required explanation during my interview with the president of the High Desert Celtic Society, Deby Falconer. She casually peppered our conversation with such traditional Celtic terms, bringing my brain to a screeching halt as I turn to Wikipedia to research the ancient words—even though Falconer said the point of the 25-year old organization is to promote Celtic culture.
"The goal is to help people understand what Celtic culture encompasses," she explained. "Some people think it's just Scotland and Ireland, but there are actually seven or eight Celtic Nations that are not actual countries but regions that have a culture that still retains its Celtic origins."
This weekend's 25th annual High Desert Celtic Society Festival continues the organization's mission in a gathering of traditional dance, bagpipes, kilts and athletes.
The Highland Games that accompany the festival are of special interest—essentially a rugged strong man competition carried out in kilts. Events include the hammer throw (where participants chuck a 16 to 22-pound blacksmith's hammer as far as they can), the stone throw (much like shot put except using GIANT rocks) and the caber toss, in which athletes throwa 13 to 17 foot-long log attempting to flip it end over end. Falconer said the origins of the primitive games are unclear as they predate recorded history.
"One theory [about the caber toss] is that it was a way that they were able to get trees down hills and across streams. Now, we call it tossing telephone poles."
The High Desert Highland Games will include some participants who have never thrown a stone or hammer before and some professional circuit athletes who travel across the United States participating in highland games. There are 62 recognized events across the country.
Celtic culture is strong in our state. Oregon has three recognized highland games—in Portland, Athena, and next weekend's event right here in the High Desert. Oregon even has its own tartan (to the delight of lumberjacks and flannel-wearing Portland hipsters). It was developed in Central Oregon and adopted a decade ago by the state.
But you can't just call a plaid a tartan; to be official it must be approved by the Scottish Tartans Authority (which Oregon's is), a group that maintains a database with about 6,000 approved and unique tartan designs. Oregon's tartan was also approved by Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2003. Even Oregon State University and the University of Oregon have their own dueling (and authentically approved) tartans.
Pack up the bagpipes, the kilts and the kids and learn something new about Celtic culture this weekend.
25th annual High Desert Celtic Society Festival
Opening ceremony 12 pm
Deschutes County Fair Grounds, 3800 SW Airport Way
More information at hdcs.net