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Bagpipe players at a National Tartan Day parade in New York.

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National Tartan Day

National Tartan Day is a US observance on April 6 each year. It commemorates the Scottish Declaration of Independence, from which the American Declaration of Independence was modelled on. It also recognizes achievements of Americans of Scottish descent.

Tartan Day is a celebration of Scottish heritage on April 6, the date on which the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320. An ad hoc event was held in New York City in 1982, but the current format originated in Canada in the mid-1980s. It spread to other communities of the Scottish diaspora in the 1990s. In Australasia the similar International Tartan Day is held on July 1, the anniversary of the repeal of the 1747 Act of Proscription that banned the wearing of tartan.

Tartan Days typically have parades of pipe bands, Highland dancing and other Scottish-themed events.

What do people do?

National Tartan Day parades occur in major cities such as New York on or around April 6. These parades often feature bag-pipe bands playing Scottish music and people dressed in kilts with tartan patterns that represent their Scottish clans. Special award events are also held on Tartan Day, often organized by groups such as the American Scottish Foundation.

Canada
Canada estimates 15.1% or 4.7 million Canadians claim Scottish descent. As stated above, Tartan Day in Canada originated with a proposal from the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia and has since been proclaimed by all the provincial legislatures. In 2007 Peter Stoffer introduced a Private member's bill for "An Act respecting a Tartan Day". Progress of the bill was interrupted by the 2008 election, but it has been resubmitted.
An annual 'Gathering of the Clans' will take place each April 6 or on the Sunday nearest to it on Parliament Hill in Ottawa at noon with pipes, drums, and dancing hosted by the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, Canada's oldest civilian pipe band. The 2011 celebrations marked the first time that Tartan Day has been celebrated with Canada's official tartan having been named: the Maple Leaf.
Australia and New Zealand
Three million Australians are either Scottish or of Scottish descent. International Tartan Day in Australia and New Zealand is celebrated on a local basis in most states on July 1 (or by some community organizations on the nearest Sunday), the anniversary of the Repeal Proclamation of 1782 annulling the Act of Proscription of 1747, which had made wearing tartan an offense punishable with up to seven years' transportation. According to Scottish House secretary Moyna Scotland, the tendency to disguise Scottish associations was mirrored in Australia: 'Scots did what they were told to do when they came to Australia assimilate and integrate and they almost disappeared', and consequently one aim of Tartan Day is to help Australians reconnect with their Scottish ancestry. A tartan revival started in 1822, and now many of the Australian States as well as the Commonwealth of Australia itself have their own tartans.
In 1989 the Scottish Australian Heritage Council began to encourage Australians to wear tartan on July 1, when more than half a million Australians gather for a celebration of Scottish heritage, combining nostalgia with Australian citizenship ceremonies, and fund-raising for charitable causes such as drought assistance. Australians without a family tartan are invited to wear the Royal Stewart tartan or the military tartan of the Black Watch. Tartan articles worn on the day include hats, ties and socks. There are many pipe band associations in both Australia and New Zealand, some originating in disbanded Second World War army battalions, and almost 30 heritage events in Australia alone. Some clans, notably the McLeods of South Australia, come together in private events to honor their chief, recite Burns, consume haggis and take part in Highland dancing. A butcher in Maclean, New South Wales, 'the Scottish town in Australia', reportedly celebrates the day by selling haggisburgers.

Since 2001 the Scottish Australian Heritage Council and Australian branch of the Scottish National Party have petitioned Canberra for federal recognition of International Tartan Day to celebrate the Scottish contribution to Australian history, including the influence of Scottish radicalism on the trade union movement and the Labor Party, and Australia's allegedly 'egalitarian and meritocratic' society. In 2008 Linda Fabiani, the then Scottish culture minister, floated a proposal to expand the Australian event into an official Scotland Week as part of the Scottish government's international business strategy.
United States
In the United States it is estimated that there are 6 million people who claim Scottish descent. Little was done to follow up the New York event in 1982. In 1998, a Coalition of Scottish Americans with the Support of Senator Trent Lott, successfully lobbied the Senate for the designation of April 6 as National Tartan Day "to recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions made by Scottish Americans to the United States". Senate Resolution 155, passed on March 20, 1998, referred to the predominance of Scots among the Founding Fathers and claimed that the American Declaration of Independence was "modeled on" the Declaration of Arbroath. While this link is plausible, it has not been definitively proven. This is just one opinion. There is a great bit of proof given in the book entitled "Scottish Invention of America, Democracy and Human Rights" and to some degree in the book entitled " How the Scots Invented the Modern World". Thomas Jefferson's education was heavily influenced by Scottish thought.
In 2004, the National Capital Tartan Day Committee, a coalition of Scottish-American organizations, successfully lobbied the US House of Representatives. On March 9, 2005, the United States House of Representatives unanimously adopted House Resolution 41, which designates April 6 of each year as "National Tartan Day.” H.Res.41 Chief Sponsors were Congressmen Mike McIntyre from North Carolina and John Duncan from Tennessee.
Four years later, a joint effort by the National Capital Tartan Day Committee and the American-Scottish Foundation promoted a campaign for a Presidential Proclamation, which resulted in thousands of letters and petition signers to the President of the United States. On April 4, 2008, President George W. Bush signed a Presidential Proclamation making April 6 National Tartan Day. Here is the content of the Presidential Proclamation:
    2008 PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATION
    President George Bush today signed on April 4th 2008 a Presidential Proclamation making April 6th National Tartan Day! Proclamation signed by the President of the United States:
    Americans of Scottish descent have made enduring contributions to our Nation with their hard work, faith, and values. On National Tartan Day, we celebrate the spirit and character of Scottish Americans and recognize their many contributions to our culture and our way of life.
    Scotland and the United States have long shared ties of family and friendship, and many of our country's most cherished customs and ideals first grew to maturity on Scotland's soil. The Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence signed in 1320, embodied the Scots' strong dedication to liberty, and the Scots brought that tradition of freedom with them to the New World. Sons and daughters of many Scottish clans were among the first immigrants to settle in America, and their determination and optimism helped build our Nation's character. Several of our Founding Fathers were of Scottish descent, as have been many Presidents and Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Many Scottish Americans, such as Andrew Carnegie, were great philanthropists, founding and supporting numerous scientific, educational, and civic institutions. From the evocative sounds of the bagpipes to the great sport of golf, the Scots have also left an indelible mark on American culture.
    National Tartan Day is an opportunity to celebrate all Americans who claim Scottish ancestry, and we are especially grateful for the service in our Armed Forces of Scottish Americans who have answered the call to protect our Nation.
    NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 6, 2008, as National Tartan Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day by celebrating the continued friendship between the people of Scotland and the United States and by recognizing the contributions of Scottish Americans to our Nation.
    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.

    GEORGE W. BUSH

The Tunes of Glory Parade organized by Magnus Orr and Thomas Grotrian in 2002 saw 8,250 pipers and drummers march through the streets of New York led by Sir Sean Connery and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They were the centerpiece of the event where thousands of Americans celebrated their links to Scotland. One of Scotland's national treasures, William Wallace's sword, left Scotland for the first time in 700 years and was flown to New York for the Tartan Week celebrations of 2005.
Outside New York City, one of the largest Tartan Day celebrations in the United States takes place each year on the weekend closest to April 6 on the banks of the Missouri river in St. Charles, Missouri. The Missouri Tartan Day Festival began in April 2000, after successful lobbying at the State Capital in Jefferson City, members of the St. Andrew and Celtic Societies of St. Louis, Kansas City, Jefferson City and Springfield, Missouri, gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in Jefferson City to receive the first proclamation of Tartan Day in Missouri. This was for the year 2000 only.
In addition to the above celebrations, the Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland, Scottish-American Societies hold Tartan Day Celebrations. These celebrations include a Congressional Reception hosted by Congressman McIntyre and Congressman Duncan and organized by the National Capital Tartan Day Committee, a Tartan Day Festival in Alexandria, Virginia, and various social and educational programs in the first two weeks in April. On the west coast, one of the oldest and largest festivals is held each year in San Diego's Balboa Park, founded in 2003 by San Diego's six fraternal Scottish organizations and involving participants from throughout Southern California. Tartan Day celebrations are held by St. Andrew's Societies throughout the United States.
Scotland
Angus Council, whose region includes Arbroath, established the first Tartan Day festival in Scotland on April 6, 2004, and has since joined other regional councils in attempting to develop its potential as a global celebration. In 2006 events were held in Arbroath, Aberdeen, Montrose, Kilmarnock, Stirling, Perth, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Argentina
Argentina claims around 100,000 people of Scottish descent, the largest such community outside the English-speaking world. The Tartan Day parade of Scottish porteños was inaugurated in Buenos Aires on April 6, 2006 and is organized every year by the Scottish Argentine Society. A symbolic key to the gate of Arbroath's Abbey is carried to honour this historical date of 1320 that inspired this celebration.

Background

The Scottish Declaration of Independence was signed on April 6, 1320. The American Declaration of Independence was, in fact, modelled on this particular document. Almost half of the signers of the American Declaration of Independence were of Scottish descent.

The US Senate Resolution on National Tartan Day was passed on March 20, 1998. From that point onward, National Tartan Day was designated as a day for all Americans, particularly those of Scottish descent, on April 6 each year.

In 1982, under the auspices of the New York Caledonian Club, New York State Governor Hugh Carey, and New York City Mayor Ed Koch declared July 1, 1982, as Tartan Day, 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 tartan.

On March 9, 1986, a 'Tartan Day' to promote Scottish heritage in Canada, was proposed at a meeting of the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia. Jean Watson, President of Clan Lamont, petitioned provincial legislatures to recognize April 6 as Tartan Day. The first such proclamation was by Nova Scotia in April 1987; other provinces followed suit until Quebec was the last to fall in line, in December 2003.

In Australia, wearing tartan on July 1 has been encouraged since 1989. The day has been promoted as International Tartan Day in Australia since 1996 and has been formally recognized by many states, but not at national level. The United States Senate recognized April 6 as Tartan Day in 1998.

Symbols

Tartan clothing is often worn by Scottish Americans taking part in National Tartan Day.

Tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours. Tartans originated in woven wool, but now they are made in many other materials. Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland. Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns. Tartan is often called plaid in North America, but in Scotland, a plaid is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket such as one would have on a bed.

Tartan is made with alternating bands of coloured (pre-dyed) threads woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other. The weft is woven in a simple twill, two over — two under the warp, advancing one thread at each pass. This forms visible diagonal lines where different colours cross, which give the appearance of new colours blended from the original ones. The resulting blocks of colour repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a sett.

The Dress Act of 1746 attempted to bring the warrior clans under government control by banning the tartan and other aspects of Gaelic culture. When the law was repealed in 1782, it was no longer ordinary Highland dress, but was adopted instead as the symbolic national dress of Scotland.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the highland tartans were only associated with either regions or districts, rather than any specific Scottish clan. This was because like other materials, tartan designs were produced by local weavers for local tastes and would usually only use the natural dyes available in that area, as chemical dye production was non-existent and transportation of other dye materials across long distances was prohibitively expensive.

The patterns were simply different regional checked-cloth patterns, chosen by the wearer's preference – in the same way as people nowadays choose what colours and patterns they like in their clothing, without particular reference to propriety. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that many patterns were created and artificially associated with Scottish clans, families, or institutions who were (or wished to be seen as) associated in some way with a Scottish heritage. The Victorians' penchant for ordered taxonomy and the new chemical dyes then available meant that the idea of specific patterns of bright colours, or "dress" tartans, could be created and applied to a faux-nostalgic view of Scottish history.

It is generally stated that the most popular tartans today are the Black Watch (also known as Old Campbell, Grant Hunting, Universal, Government), and the Royal Stewart. Today tartan is no longer limited to textiles, but is used on non-woven mediums, such as paper, plastics, packaging, and wall coverings.

 

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