In 1982, Scottish Americans gathered in New York City to celebrate Scottish-American heritage and the contributions that Scots have made to American culture and history. The gathering was organized by the New York Caledonian Club and was declared by both the Governor of New York State and the Mayor of New York City to be Tartan Day. The event was held on July 1st, the 200th anniversary of the repeal of the Act of Proscription which forbade the wearing of the tartan in Scotland.
The Act of Proscription of 1746 incorporated the Dress Act which required all swords to be surrendered to the government and prohibited the wearing of tartans or kilts. The Act remained in force for 36 years, and effectively destroyed Highlanders’ customs and traditions for a generation. The plaid and kilt were never again a part of everyday wear in the Scottish Highlands. This did not prevent the Highlanders from finding a way to honor their traditions; on Sundays they would wear a piece of tartan under their drab “English” clothing, retaining their clan identity and beginning the custom of “the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan”. from Battle for the Battlefield, “Scottish Heart” blog © Kate Cowie Riley
In 1986, the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia proposed a ‘Tartan Day’ to promote Scottish heritage in Canada. The Federation petitioned provincial legislatures to recognize April 6 as Tartan Day. Nova Scotia was the first province to make the proclamation in April, 1987. Quebec was the last to do so in 2003. April 6th was chosen for the date in honor of the April 6th signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.
A letter written to Pope John XXII, the Declaration of Arbroath intended to confirm Scotland’s independence and was signed by thirty-nine ranking Scottish landowners. It asserted Scotland’s sovereignty over English territorial claims and a declaration of Scottish independence against Edward I’s English rule.
The grassroots effort for a National Tartan Day in the US, led by the Caledonian Foundation, began in 1995, and on April 6, 1997 the first National Tartan Day was celebrated in the United States by a Senate Resolution for a one-time celebration. In 1998, Tartan Day was officially recognized on a permanent basis when the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 155 recognizing April 6th as National Tartan Day. This was followed by companion bill, House Resolution 41, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 9, 2005. Four years later, the National Capital Tartan Day Committee and the American-Scottish Foundation jointly promoted a campaign for a Presidential Proclamation for Tartan Day. On April 4, 2008, President George W. Bush signed a Presidential Proclamation making April 6 National Tartan Day.
In 2005, the sword of William Wallace was taken down from the Wallace Memorial and left Scotland for the first time in its 700-year history to be taken to New York City as part of the Tartan Day celebrations. Kyle and I had been debating about trying to climb the 71 stairs of the Wallace Memorial to see the sword when we were there in late March of 2005. Considering his injured ankle, we decided against it. We were very happy with our decision when, in the next day’s paper, we read that the sword had been removed the day we were in Stirling. We did get to see it last year, though!
Tartan Day has now taken on global importance, and celebrations are held by those of us of Scottish descent as we attend large celebrations such as those in NYC and other major metropolitan areas or smaller Scottish & Celtic Fairs in our own areas. At the very least, there is the wearing of the tartan. So if you see someone wearing a plaid this weekend, it’s quite possibly much more than a fashion statement!