The first hint at something resembling a Tartan Day celebration was a one-off event in 1982, organised by then-governor of New York Hugh Carey, and City Mayor Ed Koch. As part of the New York Caledonian Club, they declared July 1st 1982 as ‘Tartan Day,’ designed to celebrate the repeal of the Act of Proscription (1747), which banned Scots from wearing tartan.
However, the idea of a Tartan Week, or annual celebration originated in Canada in 1986. Given the large numbers of ex-pat Scots, to say nothing of Nova Scotia, in Canada, all provinces petitioned provincial legislation to designate April 6th as Tartan Day, and the idea has since spread to other major cities in the US.
Senate Resolution 155, passed on March 20 1998, referred to the high number of Scots among the Founding Fathers and even suggested the Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776 was based on the Declaration of Arbroath, signed on April 6th 1320. Although this has never been historically proven, Thomas Jefferson was indeed influenced by Scottish teachings and so there may be a hint of truth in this statement.
On April 6th, 1998, George W Bush signed a Presidential Proclamation, branding April 6th as Tartan Day. In the past few years, events have escalated and New York’s Tartan Week is now a 14-day smorgasbord of Scottish-themed events, proving the age-old adage that everything in America really is bigger. With Scottish music, culture, national drink and a fair amount of tartan involved, there really is something for everyone in Tartan Week, or Tartan Day, wherever you are in the world.
Here, we’ve chosen the highlights from the main events, and looked at the history behind activities in other countries.
It seems strange that something so quintessentially Scottish should be a foreign import, but we think it’s a positive aspect of Scotland’s links with the wider world that this desire to celebrate Scottish heritage came from abroad. Rather appropriately, the first proper Tartan Day festival in Scotland was held by the Angus Council - the authority responsible for Arbroath, site of the eponymous declaration - in 2004, with other authorities including Aberdeen, Montrose, Kilmarnock, Stirling, Perth, Glasgow and of course Edinburgh following suit in later years. The Homecoming Festival of 2009 was just one example of the scale of event Scotland can put on to celebrate its heritage - something it does very well.
International Golf Challenge - March 31st - April 7th 2012
For those staying put this April (or indeed those coming to Scotland), the International Golf Challenge provides a mix of cultural and historical activities - for those who like their golf. With the opportunity to play on four courses, including the Old Course at St Andrews, and the Carnoustie Championship course, this is a great chance to not only play a round at the home of golf, but also to visit Scottish landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle and Glamis Castle, whisky tasting, as well as a ‘beat the retreat’ event, accompanied by the now-mandatory bagpiping.
The Scotland 10K Run - April 7, 2012
Central Park is used regularly by runners, both local and visiting, as it provides a range of terrain but nothing too strenuous. The Scotland 10K Run is held on April 7 2012, and is in its ninth year of existence. Competitors are naturally spurred on by the sound of bagpipes, but we hear wearing a kilt for the full 10 kilometres is optional.
The route can be viewed and downloaded as a PDF here, whilst it costs $37/$15 for non-New York Road Runners members to take part.
There are prizes for those placing first to seventh, ranging from a trip for two to Scotland to tickets for an advance screening of long-awaited Scots animated film Brave.
For more info visit New York Road Runners
Whisky Live New York - April 11th, 2012
Pier 60. Whisky. The Hudson River. New York. It all sounds too good to be true, but Whisky Live is one of the staples of New York’s Tartan Week celebrations. Hosted by the American-Scottish Foundation, this event suits either experienced whisky connoisseurs, or those new to Scotland’s national drink. With every need catered for - there’s even a ‘designated driver’ option, for those who plan on tasting a lot of whisky - the ticket prices are almost certainly justified. With VIP tickets allowing you an extra hour of whisky-tasting, it’s worth stumping up that little extra. With seasoned experts and a buffet included, this is viewed by some as the highlight of Tartan Week.
As mentioned earlier, Canada started the idea of a Tartan celebration, with roughly 15.1%, or 4.7 million residents claiming Scottish descent. The original idea for Tartan Week was Canada;s Tartan Day, coming about as the result of a proposal from the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia, and has since been proclaimed by all Canadian provinces.
Interestingly enough, the main Tartan Day event in Canada takes place in Ottawa, rather than Nova Scotia, with a ‘Gathering of the Clans’ taking place at midday on April 6th, or the closest Sunday to this day each year. Pipes, drums and dancers gather at Parliament Hill in an event hosted by the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, widely regarded as Canada’s oldest civilian band. In 2011, Canada’s official tartan (yes, really) was named the Maple Leaf tartan.
Argentina celebrates Tartan Week too, with the South American claiming to be home to over 100,000 Scots ex-pats. The first Tartan Week parade for the Scots ‘porteños’ was held in 2006 in Buenos Aires, with the bearer of the key to Arbroath Abbey attending in 2008.
There are around 3 million citizens in Australia who count themselves as Scottish or of Scottish descent. However, the traditional day to celebrate their roots takes place on July 1st each year, which coincides with the repeal of the Act of Proscription (which banned the wearing of tartan). Whilst there is a big pipe band contingency in Oceania, many ‘clans’ choose to celebrate in private.
There have, however, been moves in recent years to try and get both Australia and New Zealand to officially recognise a Tartan Day to fit in with the rest of the global celebrations. Most recently, Linda Fabiani MSP - then Scottish Minister for Culture - floated a proposal to expand the Australian event into an official Scotland Week, in a move to strengthen the Scottish Government’s international business strategy.
Of course, this is a very brief history and account of Tartan Week/Tartan Day throughout the world. Do you have any thoughts, memories or photos? Perhaps you celebrate Tartan Day in a location we haven’t covered? Feel free to share them on our Facebook page
Meanwhile, here are three links from The Scotsman archive related to Tartan Week. Read about Andrew Carnegie, the Scot who emigrated to New York and ended up the richest man in the world; discover the story of the abolition of the kilt and read up on some famous Scots-Americans.