Last Saturday saw New York’s annual Tartan Day parade make its way along 6th Avenue. The unrivalled culmination of a week of Scottish celebrations in the Big Apple, Tartan Day has now been celebrated for over two decades and attracts many a visitor to the streets of central Manhattan. With similar events held throughout North America, Scottish expats and the descendants of Scottish migrants who arrived many years ago have established a new tradition to celebrate their Scottish heritage in the Diaspora.
Such public displays of Scottishness in New York, featuring kilted pipers, tartan trews and the Saltire waving in the breeze, are, however, by no means a late twentieth-century invention. One of the earliest celebrations that saw a large assemblage of Scots parading through central New York was that of the Scott Centenary in 1871. Among the other events pursued during the day of celebrations was a banquet at the famous Delmonico’s restaurant, and the laying of the foundation stone for the statue that was to be erected in honour of Sir Walter Scott in Central Park. Among those invited to Central Park was General Sherman. Though Sherman could not attend the event, he sent a letter to apologise for his absence, also noting that America owed much to Sir Walter Scott. It was, in fact, ‘America’s obligation to the great author, who has woven the crude tradition of his native land into tales of exquisite and everlasting interest to the whole civilized world’ that made the statue a suitable proclamation of America’s recognition of Scott (reprinted in New York Times, 15 August 1871). A replica of John Steell’s Scott Monument in Edinburgh, the statue was officially unveiled a good year later in November 1872. Scottish sentiments were on display again, with a legion of Highlanders from the 79th Regiment, the National Guard and the Caledonian Club being present at the unveiling.
Have you been at Tartan Week events last week or in previous years? If so, what attracts you to the events? Share your thoughts, I’d be delighted to hear from you.