Tartan Day

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 13.59.31‘We are the better Americans for the Scottish heritage.’ John Foord’s assessment in the foreword to Black’s exploration of the Scots’ role in making America is clearly celebratory in tone, but nonetheless has currency. At an official level, the importance of the Scottish contribution to the development of America was acknowledged in 1998, when a group of Scottish Americans, supported by United States Senator Trent Lott from Mississippi, proposed National Tartan Day ‘to recognize the outstanding achievement and contributions made by Scottish Americans in the United States’. The resolution was passed, designating 6 April as National Tartan Day. The date was specifically chosen because it was on 6 April 1320 that the Declaration of Arbroath was signed: the spirit of independence inherent in it provides a critical link across the Atlantic, resonating in the Declaration of Independence—not least because almost half of the signatories of it were of Scottish descent. As the promoters of National Tartan Day argued, ‘Scottish Americans successfully helped shape this country in its formative years and guided this Nation through its most troubled times.’

The prominence of Scots in positions of power, and contemporary awareness and displays of public Scottishness, while signs of the deep Scottish heritage and legacies in North America for some, have been characterized by others as manifestations of invented traditions. Whatever side of the fence one sits on, developments such as Tartan Day are reflective of the meaning many people in North America attach to their Scottish heritage: for them the question of authenticity has little relevance as it is the meaning of these initiatives for Scots and their descendants that has currency. In the United States data from the Census Bureau sheds further light on the importance of Scottish heritage for many Americans. As the 2009 American Community Survey reveals, 5,847,000 of the people who reported their ancestry considered themselves ‘Scottish’, and 3,570,000 ‘Scotch-Irish’. The survey also offers a percentage distribution by region; from this we learn that 17 per cent of respondents who saw themselves as ‘Scottish’ lived the Northeast, 20 per cent in the Midwest, 37 per cent in the South and 27 per cent in the West.

So the Scots and their identity in the US remain strong!

One way in which Scottish heritage continues to be celebrated annually is through Tartan Day celebrations. New York hosts the most significant – a week-long celebration of things Scottish, culminating in the annual Tartan Day parade – and it was my great pleasure to join activities last week. The parade attracted thousands of spectators – and that despite the truly terrible weather! Sort of quite Scottish weather, one might be tempted to say. But of course it’s never the weather that’s the problem, just what you wear. Thankfully kilts and tweed have long since withstood wet conditions! It was wonderful to be part of the parade again. My thanks to the organisers, particularly hearty ones to Siouxsie Waller for all her help, and of course to Scot Street Style and also Siobhan Mackenzie – honoured to have walked with you. … And how cool are Siobhan’s designs!


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