When people think of Scotland, they often conjure up a stereotypical image of a heavily bearded man lunging on a rock, his red coat and tartan kilt blowing in the stiff breeze, with a bag pipe clutched at his side, looking forward to dining on haggis. Much to the disappoint of many, the Scottish reality is very different, with blue denim jeans and McDonald’s being commonplace.
Luckily, the Scots are a proud race and are known to celebrate their heritage in a variety of ways, one of which is national tartan day. A large number of Americans can trace their heritage back to Scotland and thus National Tartan Day, celebrated on 6th April, is a big deal across the US. But what is tartan and why is it celebrated by the richest country in the world?
What is Tartan?
Tartan is a pattern of interlocking stripes, some of you may be more familiar with it if I called it plaid. However, tartan is a pattern while plaid refers to a length of material. The word plaid actually comes from the word blanket, thus the kilt is sometimes referred to as the ‘belted plaid’ due to it effectively being a length of cloth wrapped around the waist and secured with a belt at the hips.
Tartan itself is a complex of interlocking stripes that run vertically (weft) and horizontally (warp) through the cloth. This gives tartan its unique patterned look, with earthy cloths run through with red, orange, green and even blue stripes. Today there are thousands of different tartan patterns available to buy as well as the option to have bespoke tartan from a range of suppliers.
National Tartan Day
National Tartan day has been celebrated in Canada since 1993 and the US quickly followed suit, the date commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. This bill aimed to assert Scotland’s sovereignty over territorial claims by the English. This bill has huge significance for all Americans as it directly affected and influenced the most important bill in American history, the Declaration of Independence, which was signed 500 years later on July 4th 1776.
So, if few people realise that the Arboath is directly linked to independence why do so many celebrate national tartan day?
The answer is heritage. Many tartan patterns are directly linked to families, companies, events or towns. Thus, tartan is more than a rebellious streak of independence, it signifies a display off heritage (not to mention your pale legs), which should be celebrated. People are now spread far and wide across the globe, with every major city and town a melting pot of cultures, it is increasingly important for a growing number of people to be able to make that historical link.
To top it off, there is something wonderfully rebellious about wearing tartan; it is the choice of rogues, of warriors and of real men who have no fear. This is may be the reason that tartan has made a comeback on the high street with Alexander McQueen producing some truly stunning tartan dresses and a few London tailoring companies producing modern tartans like the vibrant blue and black tartan above.
So, now that you know all about national tartan day, will you be braving the breeze by getting your tartan and tackle out for the next national tartan day?
By Sam Adam Smith, The Scottish Gentleman #3PG