We all have a preferred method of coping with the sticky heat of the summer months. Some of us find reprieve in the shady campgrounds of a peaceful lake. Many of us opt to explore the regional terrain via motorcycle. Others venture to sandy beaches, with umbrellas, books and coolers in tow. The highly motivate among us may train harder as runners, swimmers, or bicyclists. Our methods of coping are, as varied and individualized as each of us are. As Americans, we devote much of our time asserting ourselves as individuals; often forgetting that we are forged by our exposure to culture. And it is culture which shapes our value systems, and defines our ideals.
In the Catskill region, the small towns tell the story of the many cultures who have immigrated to America for the promise of a better life. When driving through the villages, there are lines from this narrative etched into every horizon. The creeks and mountain peaks still bear the names bestowed by native populations and the early Dutch settlers. And, within a ten mile drive on the main road, you may very well see a Greek or Italian resort, a kosher deli, a tall Ukrainian church nestled into a hill, and a German farm. If you’re lucky enough to drive through on the right weekend, you may find yourself smack-dab in the middle of another great summer escape: a festival.
Unlike the fixed examples of cultural diffusion like churches or resorts, a festival is dynamic. It moves and changes every year, all while preserving the essence of the hosting culture or group. Festivals are a living expression of how a group distinguishes itself. It is a ritual celebration that serves as showcase of the nuanced ways in which people play the game of being human.
Every summer at Hunter Mountain, two of these groups, the Celtic and the German, gather in the hills. Whether or not you happen to share heritage with either of these gracious hosts, everyone is invited to partake in the celebration. The Germans arrived in the Catskills early in the 18th century, mostly as refugees from a war torn Europe. They settled in pockets along the Hudson River, but the socio-political conditions proved to be rather harsh, so while some of these three thousand immigrants stayed, many fled to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Today, there is a German treasure trove nestled in Purling and Round Top, this area having gained most of its momentum between the World Wars. As for the Celts, these tribes had a historically less unified federation of, but as with the Germans, the early twentieth century had marked a significant wave of immigration to the United States. It is in East Durham, where you can find the most concentrated Celtic community in the Catskills.
As hosts of these festivals, both of these groups know that wherever you may travel, you can take the best stuff with you: the dance, the food, the music, the craftsmanship, and, of course, the drinks. And this is what a festival is all about. It represents the communal spirit. It is a forum where politics take a back seat to the people and you are instead immersed in the best of what the culture has to offer.