On October 21, 2010, Tartan Day in Canada was officially declared. The date was set for April 6. The same date is observed all over North America and in Scotland itself. Tartan Day is July 1 in Australia and New Zealand.
Significantly, April 6 is the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arboath (1320), which is often called Scotland’s Declaration of Independence.
When Pope John XXII (1249-1334) renewed Robert the Bruce’s excommunication, he also placed Scotland under ecclesiastic sanction. Scotland responded with the Declaration of Arboath, issued in the names of eight earls and 31 barons. In Latin, it told the origin myth of the Scots and listed the 113 kings who had ruled Scotland. It insisted Scots were a free and unconquered people while also criticizing Edward I of England. A tribute to freedom was included.
This document evidently touched the pope who temporarily lifted Bruce’s excommunication.
Tartan’s history, like Scotland’s, is troubled. It was banned during the Jacobite uprisings (1688-1746) when Scots attempted to restore the Stuarts to the throne. This ban remained until 1781, although, because England needed Highland soldiers to protect its expanding empire, soldiers were exempt from the prohibition.
The act to ban tartan, The Act of Proscription, read: “No man or boy shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on ... the Plaid, Philabeg or Little Kilt, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and no tartan or parti-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used ...”
Penalties for violating this law were severe — six months imprisonment for a first offence; transportation to the colonies for a repeat offence.
The word, tartan, is of obscure origin. First recorded in 1471, it’s defined as, “A kind of woollen cloth woven in stripes of various colours crossing at right angles to form a regular pattern; worn chiefly by Scottish Highlanders, each clan having its own distinctive pattern.”
A Philabeg (Filibeg), known since 1746, is from Scottish Gaelic, feileadh-beag (“a fold” plus “little”). It means “a kilt.”
Kilt (1730) is from the Danish, kilte (to tuck up). It’s a “deeply pleated skirt, usually of tartan, reaching from waist to knee.”
Plaid (1512) is from the Gaelic plaide. Its origin is obscure. It means, “A long piece of twilled woollen cloth, usually of tartan.”
Trowse (trouse; trews) is Late Middle English (1578) from the Irish Gaelic triubhas: “Close-fitting trousers or breeches combined with stockings, formerly worn by Irishmen and Scots.”
Canada’s own tartan, the Maple Leaf Tartan, was created in 1964 by David Weiser. All provinces have their tartans. Manitoba’s dates to 1962. Every provincial tartan, except Quebec’s, has been officially registered by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, Guardian of Scottish Heraldry.
On September 18, 2014, Scots will vote regarding independence from Britain. This referendum is causing sovereignty ripples of its own. Three island groups, all currently part of Scotland, have petitioned for independence referenda. The Outer Hebrides, Orkney Islands, and Shetland Islands could possibly secede from Scotland.
Shades of Quebec!
Have a nice Tartan Day anyway.