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April is Scottish American Heritage month. And connected to this month long awareness of Scottish ancestry is National Tartan Day. Celebrated annually on April 6th, this day encourages the wearing of the plaid as a way to publicly proclaim one’s Scottish roots.
I happily celebrate this day yearly, with the wearing of tartan. However, this is the first year I’ve enjoyed wearing the Maitland tartan. Because the Maitland tartan is private, it can only be purchased by clan members. I’m a member of the clan, however I had not yet purchased the official tartan.
That changed last summer. My sister Debbie and I attended our first Maitland Clan Gathering in Scotland. We met our Clan Chief and Scottish kin, who gathered from around the world. When Debbie and I flew home, after a delightful 10 days spent in Edinburgh and the Borders, we carried Maitland tartan sashes and scarves and clan badges with us.
The Origin of the Tartan
A tartan is a cloth, originally made of wool, woven in a pattern of colors. Long associated with the Highlanders of Scotland, the early tartans were simple plaid designs of two or three colors. The colors came from dye-producing plants, roots, berries and trees local to specific geographic areas. These simple plaids, worn by the people in the districts where they were made, became the area or clan tartans.
As clans grew, tartans evolved. New clans added additional stripes onto the basic patterns of parent clans. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, an act of Parliament passed in London, making the carrying of weapons and the wearing of tartans a penal offense. After the act was repealed in 1785, most Highlanders had lost the desire to wear their clan tartans and many of the original patterns were lost. The wearing of the tartans revived in 1822.
Today all Scottish clan tartans are registered through the Registers at Lyon Court.
The Maitland Tartan
The Maitlands, a Scottish Borders family, settled in the valley of Lauder after originating from Normandy. What a pleasure to hear my Chief, Ian the 18th Earl of Lauderdale, tell the story last summer of how the Maitland tartan came into existence.
When Queen Elizabeth came through Edinburgh in 1953, after her coronation, the 16th Earl of Lauderdale performed the role of Hereditary Bearer for the Sovereign of the National Flag of Scotland.
Authorities agreed the Bearer of the Flag should appear in tartan, however at that time, the Maitlands did not have one. Lord Lyon, after reviewing the situation, proclaimed that although the Maitlands were Lowlanders, it was fully proper for them to wear tartan.
Lyon suggested a modification of the accepted Lauder tartan since the Maitland Chief was also Earl of Lauderdale. He proposed bordering Lauder’s thin red line on either side with two yellow lines to represent the colors of the lion on the Maitland coat of arms.
And so the Maitland tartan came into existence and was registered. Only those recognized by the Chief may wear it. As a card carrying Maitland Clan member, I am allowed to purchase and wear the tartan and the clan badge as a show of loyalty to my Chief.
National Tartan Day 2020
What an honor today, to declare my Scottish heritage through wearing the Maitland tartan. Even though I never left the borders of my yard, I enjoyed wrapping myself in my tartan and taking photos outside in the garden.
I feel the powerful connection today to my Scottish ancestry and to the kinsmen I met last summer. And my heart is turned toward Scotland for another reason. Over the weekend, clan members learned of the passing of the Chief’s wife, the lovely Lady Ann, Countess of Lauderdale.
I only met Lady Ann last July. However, I loved her sweet and gentle spirit. I am both grateful that I met her and sad that I’ll not see her again. Ian told us repeatedly last summer that clan means family and that we are all kin, scattered though we are throughout the world. His kinsmen surround him and his children and grandchildren with love, from afar. Our thoughts are with them all during this time.
My intention to return to Scotland in December, for the Christmas Market, is on hold. With the pandemic causing many changes around the world, traveling internationally may not occur for a while.
So today felt even more special, more important. I wore the Maitland tartan for Scotland, for Lady Ann, for my kinsmen and my Chief. And I wore the tartan for myself as a visual declaration that I am a Scotswoman, fiercely proud of my Scottish ancestry.
That tartan is a promise as well. I will return, to Scotland, to my ancestral home.
Check out these books about Scottish clans and tartans:
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