Thursday, April 6, 2017

Happy Tartan Day! A celebration for those with Scottish heritage

I’ve always had a deep affection for Scotland, its people, its history and culture. Today is Tartan Day which is celebrated in various countries by those who are of Scottish descent. The tartan is easily identifiable of Scottish heritage and culture. The day started as a celebration of Scottish heritage in 1982 and eventually April 6 was chosen to be the official date as it coincides with the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath. Many of us would recognize a tartan or the Scottish dress known as a kilt. However, many do not know the meaning behind the patterns or even the colors. The origins of the day were to commemorate an important anniversary.


A tartan is a pattern consisting of crisscrossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. In the United States, the pattern is often referred to as plaid which in Scottish Gaelic means blanket. Traditionally, the tartans are made of wool; however, modern tartans can be made with different materials. Even though the tartan we are familiar with today did not appear in Scotland before the 16 century, the colors and patterns came to represent the families or clans of Scotland. The tartans are a source of great pride in the Scotland and are seen as a part of their heritage. The popular tartans today are the Royal Stewart tartan which is the official tartan of Queen Elizabeth II and the Black Watch Tartan. There are different tartans that are worn for certain occasions such as dress or hunting.

The Royal Stewart Tartan

The Black Watch Tartan

In 1982, New York Governor Hugh Carey and New York City Mayor Ed Koch declared July 1, 1982 as Tartan Day. It was a one-time celebration of the 200th anniversary of the repeal of the Act of Proscription of August 12, 1747, the law forbidding Scots to wear tartans. March 9, 1986, a Tartan Day was proposed to promote Scottish heritage in Canada by the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia. This is when April 6th was chosen as Tartan Day and the first proclamation was made on April 6, 1987 in Nova Scotia. Other Canadian provinces would follow with Quebec proclaiming April 6 as Tartan Day in December 2003. A Tartan Day is celebrated in other countries besides United States and Canada. Australia celebrates Tartan Day in July 1st. Even Argentina which has a large population with Scottish heritage celebrates Tartan Day on April 6th. Regardless when the day is celebrated, Tartan Day is celebrated with parades, Highland dancing and other Scottish themed events.


The Declaration of Arbroath is the declaration of Scottish independence. It was in the form of a letter to Pope John XXII dated April 6, 1320. The declaration intended to confirm Scotland’s status as an independent sovereign state and defending Scotland’s right to use military action when unjustly attacked. The declaration had a two purposes. First, it sought to assert Scotland’s position as an independent kingdom rather than a feudal land controlled by England. Second, it sought to lift the excommunication of Robert the Bruce. The Pope had recognized Edward I of England’s claim to Scotland in 1305 and excommunicated Robert the Bruce for murdering John Comyn in the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries in 1306. It is thought to be written by Bernard of Kilwinning, Chancellor of Scotland and Abbot of Arbroath Abbey. It was signed and sealed by 52 magnates and nobles. It wouldn’t be until March 1, 1328 when the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton renounced all English claims to Scotland and removed the excommunication of Robert the Bruce.



Tartan Day is a celebration of Scottish culture and heritage. Depending on the country, the dates on which it is celebrated are often important dates in Scottish history. For the United States and Canada, April 6 is used to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath. The tartan is a source of pride to the Scottish people. If you are Scottish, Happy Tartan Day!