Great Scot: The New York Tartan Parade

The Metro North is occasionally full of people in “strange” outfits, but as an SLC student I am always only slightly surprised. After Halloween, Santa Con, and two years of “individuals” – nothing I see on the train truly shocks me anymore. So on Saturday when I took my seat next two a men in kilts, socks and hats, I took little notice. However, as more and more similarly dressed men and women boarded the train I began to wonder if something was going on. Even in New York it isn’t really possible for that many people to match on one train on one day. I might have been staring.

I couldn’t figure out what had caused their outfits. April 14th wasn’t anything in my book. It wasn’t anybodies birthday or holiday or anything that I could recall. Just another Saturday. It was one of the warmest yet this year, but not exactly what I would call kilt weather. So why the kilts? I was dying to know. In most situations, I would’ve pulled out my phone and googled till I got my answer. Unfortunately I don’t think any of the search engines would be able to tell me, “Why are all the men in my train car dressed this way.” I resolved on asking one of my fellow passengers. I picked the least surly looking of the bunch and asked, “What’s going on today?” I gesturing towards their outfits and tried to sound as polite as possible. People don’t always react well when you’re so blatantly befuddled by what they’re wearing. The gentleman smiled and said, “Tartan Day Parade.” Ah. There’s my answer: Tartan Day. I nodded my thanks to my man and pretended to do reading for conference until the train reached GCS.

For those of you who don’t know, Tartan Day is celebration of Scottish heritage. The word “tartan” referring to the criss-cross pattern of horizontal and vertical multicolored lines. Also known as plaid. Scottish kilts are usually made out of wool with tartan patterns. Tartan Day is traditionally celebrated on April 6th, which marks the Declaration of Arbroath or Scottish independence signed in 1320. New York has been celebrating Tartan Day since the 1980s.

And for the record, I’m not Scottish, nor do I possess some great knowledge of national holidays. The most Scottish thing I’ve ever done is watch Braveheart. The only reason I know any of this is because I used to go to a Tartan Day parade in my home state. With that being said, after my conversation on the train I was curious how New York did Tartan Day. For starters they were about a week late, but nothing at SLC is on time, so it wasn’t much of a set back for me. With the discrepancy in timing aside, everyone seemed to have in the true New York fashion upped the scale of the celebration. The main concourse in Grand Central was full of people decked in all manners of Scottish garb. Apparently everyone else knew about the parade, but me. I decided to follow the masses out and along 6th street.

The parade itself started at 2 pm and marched between 45th and 55th streets. The marches included pipers, drummers, dancers and lots of tartan. I felt a little out of place in my tan shorts, but I soon realized that not everyone in the crowd was actually Scottish and fit right in. One of my favorite features of the parade was an older gentleman, who was twirling a stick lit at both ends by using two other sticks. It was the kind of thing you’d see a street performer do on Santa Monica pier, expect this guy had mad skills. He twirled one handed and in between the legs, pausing every few feet to let people take pictures. Another great moment was when a few Scottish terriers and West Highland terriers marched by, happy to celebrate their heritage with their owners.

Before the parade over the course of the previous week, the city has hosted a variety of other events in celebration of Scotland. There was a gaelic exhibition at Ellis Island, a 10k run, a whisky tasting and countless other events throughout the city. If you missed the parade don’t worry Scotland is still in New York. In conjunction with Tartan Day, productions of A Slow Air (April 4-29) and Federer verses Murray (April 4-22) are running through April. Tickets for both those shows can be found here.


Image Source: New York Tartan Parade

Zoe Marquedant doesn't talk about Fight Club. She is an SLC writing student with a dinosaur watch and an over-developed sense of state pride. She can be found around campus perpetuating awkward moments and swearing like a sailor. Zoe firmly believes life is what happens in-between good cups of coffee.

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