Panama City Highland Games and Scottish Festival

The Annual Panama City Highland Games and Scottish Festival take place this Saturday, March 9, on the grounds of Grace Presbyterian Church in Panama City, Florida. Chairman Deborah Krauss fills us in on the details!

What are your roles and responsibilities with the event?
I am serving my fourth year as Chairman. As a graphic designer and copywriter in real life, most of my responsibilities are marketing-related: creating the program, updating the website, writing the press releases, etc. Also, someone has to decide when we’ll meet!

What is the event’s core mandate?
We strive to provide a family-friendly event which promotes our Scotch-Irish heritage, while raising funds for charity and exposing the public to the Presbyterian/Scotch-Irish culture. The Panama City Highland Games & Scottish Festival has been growing for 21 years. While our Festival is hosted at Grace Presbyterian Church, none of the money donated or raised by the Festival goes to the church. We are a non-profit and all our funds go to charities in and around Bay County, Fla. Our biggest donation goes to Grace Cares Food Pantry, a local food bank. Last year, they handed out over 4,300 bags of groceries to needy families in our community. We also support the Boy Scouts, the local Teen Court and the Bay County Sheriff’s Explorer Club. Our relationship with Grace Presbyterian has the roots of Presbyterianism at its core. Much of modern-day Presbyterianism is founded in the theology of Scotsman John Knox, and many Presbyterians claim Scotch-Irish heritage, especially in the South. So while the Festival itself is not religious, the people involved with it and the inspiration for it are.

How has it grown over the years?
In the beginning, the Festival was a small, church-run event. Over the years, the Festival became independent of the church, adding Athletic Games, Highland dancers, a Tartan Tea room serving scones, shortbread and high tea, as well as vendors focusing on Scottish, Irish or Celtic merchandise and food. Our attendance has grown year-over-year to approximately 5,000 attendees.

Who attends the gathering?
We have over 40 athletes who come from all over the country to compete in the Games; between five and ten Clans are represented each year; and the Festival attracts families, tourists and locals.

What can they expect to experience this year?
I might be biased, but I think the “must-have” experience for our Festival is the Scotch Eggs: Hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, battered and deep-fried. If it doesn’t kill you on the spot, you must have SOME Scotch blood in you! Of course, you also have to try the shortbread with clotted cream, and for the truly brave, haggis. There are fun things for kids, like the Joel Plough Memorial Young Highlander Games. Kids from toddlers to teens get an opportunity to toss cabers, throw Braemar stones and try their hand at Tossing the Sheaf. Don’t miss our musical acts, which perform both traditional and modern Celtic music. Also, the Panama City Pipe and Drum Corps open and close the Festival with a Clan Parade and bagpipe performance. The Bay British Car Club also shows off modern and antique cars made in the UK. On Sunday, the Kirkin’ o’the Tartan features a blessing of the clans, with tartan banners representing several families in our area.

Why is it an important event for the Celtic community there?
While most Southerners can claim Scotch-Irish heritage, there aren’t many opportunities to experience historically Scottish events. In modern times, there are few chances to throw telephone poles end over end (cabers). Or to see a professional dancer perform the Sword Dance. And hear bagpipers piping “Amazing Grace” till it echoes. Those are all part of our heritage, and it’s neat to be able to tell your kids where they came from and what makes us special.

What are the plans for the event in the years ahead?
We’ve expanded one of our stages this year, and we’d like to expand the other next year. This would allow us to host larger performing groups of musicians and dancers. We’d also like to continue to add new Celtic vendors, as there are still specialty purveyors who aren’t aware that we’re here!

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally, and what can we be doing better?
Not sure I know how to answer these. I just know we’re doing the best we can with what we have… and that’s a pretty Scottish attitude!