If green is the color of St. Patrick’s Day, then color tomorrow plaid, as kilts, bagpipes and every thing Scottish is celebrated on Tartan Day.
“Finally, Scottish-Americans have a holiday of their own,” said John Bellassai, president of the 500-member St. Andrew’s Society of Washington. “It kind of puts Scottish-Americans in the same kind of high profile as the Irish with St. Patrick’s Day, the Italians with Columbus Day and other groups.”
Scottish-Americans celebrate Tartan Day on April 6, the anniversary of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s declaration of independence.
Congress first officially recognized Tartan Day in 1998 with a unanimous Senate resolution that acknowledged “the monumental achievements and invaluable contributions made by Scottish Americans.”
Among other famous Americans, 11 presidents — including Andrew Jackson, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson — were of Scottish ancestry.
In Washington, the bagpipes will blare tomorrow from 5 to 8 p.m. at Fort McNair in Southwest, site of a reception for a delegation of visiting Scottish officials, hosted by the National Capital Tartan Day Committee.
Other Tartan Day-related festivities include a celebration of traditional Scottish music, hosted by Fiona Ritchie of National Public Radio, at 7:30 tonight at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall.
Americans’ celebration of Tartan Day has resulted in some criticism in Scotland, where the Glasgow Herald complained that the event “has a knack of attracting incendiary right-wing Republicans.”
“Tartan Day row over right-wing views of U.S. host” was the headline on a March 20 article in which the Herald complained that a delegation of Scottish officials would meet in Washington with Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr., Tennessee Republican and a co-sponsor of a House resolution recognizing Tartan Day.
The article cited Mr. Duncan’s pro-life stance, his opposition to homosexual rights and his comparison of environmentalists’ claims to Nazi propaganda.
Robin Harper, co-leader of Scotland’s Green Party, called those views “appalling” and denounced the Labor Party leadership for meeting with Mr. Duncan.
“This meeting suggests that the Scottish Labor Party are considering positioning themselves to the right of the American right,” Mr. Harper said.
A spokesman for Tom McCabe, Scotland’s finance and public service reform minister, defended the meeting, saying Mr. Duncan was a “vocal advocate” for Scotland in the United States. “We obviously promote tolerance towards all sections of society, but the important thing is that Congressman Duncan and his colleagues are here to help Scotland,” the spokesman told the Herald.
The bonny brouhaha in Scotland doesn’t affect the nonpolitical nature of Tartan Day, Mr. Bellassai said.
“Our view is that this is something that all Americans can get behind, regardless of their politics,” he said. “Since a lot of conservatives are very interested in heritage activities, it’s not surprising that we have them involved in Tartan Day in large numbers. But it’s not a political issue.”
The revival of interest in Scottish heritage was given a boost by Mel Gibson’s 1995 film, “Braveheart,” about Scotland’s patriotic leader William Wallace. Scottish ancestry societies in the United States now number more than 100, Mr. Bellassai said.
“I think it has something to do with modern American culture, where we’re fairly separated from each other,” he said of the search for Scottish roots. “Some of these extended connections are really missing, so this kind of fills that gap.
“Genealogy, next to gardening, is the most popular hobby in America. I think Scottish-Americans, like a lot of other Americans, have gotten into it through their interest in genealogy.”
In 2000, the Census Bureau counted 4.9 million Americans who reported their ancestry as Scottish, and another 4.3 million who said they were Scots-Irish — descendants of Scottish Protestants who first settled in Northern Ireland in the 1600s and began immigrating to the United States in large numbers in the 1720s.
Maine has the largest percentage (4.8 percent) of residents claiming Scottish ancestry. Scots-Irish are most heavily concentrated in North Carolina (3.2 percent), South Carolina (2.9 percent) and Tennessee (2.6 percent), the Census Bureau reports. In Virginia, 4.4 percent of residents claim Scottish or Scots-Irish ancestry, as do 3 percent of Maryland residents.
A decidedly smaller number carry their Scottish pride to the point of wearing a kilt or eating haggis. The meat dish, cooked in a lamb’s stomach, is the national dish of Scotland. Although haggis won’t be served at tomorrow’s Tartan Day reception at Fort McNair, Mr. Bellassai said, hard-core Scots can purchase canned haggis at the Scottish Merchant in Alexandria.
Mr. Bellassai said he has never been harassed about his kilt.
“I have found that about half the people don’t even notice,” he said. “But the other half, most people seem to be interested and supportive. I haven’t gotten much in the way of razzing.”
He adds: “A man in a kilt is always popular with the ladies. Just about any guy looks good in a kilt.”