Highland games are a type of event which is held as a celebration of Scottish and Gaelic traditions and culture. Nevertheless, they may take place outside of Scotland, and many cities in the United States have their own versions, such as Phoenix, Tucson, Fresno, Oakland, Forth Lauderdale, Pensacola, Honolulu, Boise, Reno, Tulsa, Houston, and Milwaukee. Among those cities, there is one that stands out, and that is Waxhaw, North Carolina, which is home to the Waxhaw Scottish Highland Games. The attractions that are featured in these games are pipe bands, highland dancing demonstration, southeastern regional amateur Scottish athletic competition, country dancing demonstrations, Scottish cultural and educational displays, clan tents, children's contests and games, border collie sheep-herding exhibitions, musical performances, vendors of Celtic foods and clothing.
The athletic competitions practiced in Highland games are centuries old, with the caber toss probably being the most emblematic of them all. A caber is a large wooden pole, about nineteen feet tall and weighing around 175 pounds, that is thrown into the air. The success of the throw is not measured by the distance that the pole travels, but rather by the position in which it falls into the ground. Other regular events are the stone put (similar to the Olympic shot put, but with a rock instead of a steel ball), the Scottish hammer throw (also similar to the modern Olympic hammer throw, with a few modifications), the weight throw (metal weights are thrown with one hand, usually using a spinning technique), the weight over the bar (similar to the preceding event, but aiming for height rather than distance), hill racing (originally meant to find the best messengers in the eleventh century), the sheaf toss (a bag filled with straw is thrown over a horizontal bar using a pitchfork) and the Maide Leisg (a trial of strength between two seated competitors).
Even though these games may not have the scope of professional sport, they have been, as was already mentioned, the basis for several Olympic competitions. As a matter of fact, competitors in Highland games are required to possess a series of athletic abilities in order to not only be successful, but also to avoid injuries. Nonetheless, it's not all about competitive events, as there are also several exhibition activities, involving music and other elements. Pipe bands, for instance, are a mainstay on Highland games, where up to twenty bands may gather and march together, playing traditional tunes such as Scotland the Brave and Amazing Grace. Some of the non-competitive aspects of Highland games are reminiscing of a Renaissance fair, like swords and armors exhibitions, and the performing of mock battles. Other attractions that draw from Scottish tradition are herding dog trials and Scottish country dancing.