Current Events, Special Days and Historic Anniversaries Brought to Life by Teddy Bears, Pandas and Other Cuddly Creatures


by Elspeth

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Today is Tartan Day when Scottish immigrants and their descendents across North America acknowledge their Scottish heritage and all that is good about Scotland - its people, its history, its culture and its amazing legacy to the world.  6th April is a hugely significant date as it’s the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, an act intended to assert Scotland’s position as an independent kingdom which, more than 450 years later, would influence the American Declaration of Independence.

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The declaration took the form of a letter sent to Pope John XXII in 1320 by eight Scottish earls and forty barons on behalf of the whole nation in which they asked him to recognise Scotland’s independence from England and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.  Despite their efforts, in 1603, the two countries were united under James I, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, although the Union of the Parliaments didn’t take place until 1707.  Let’s hope that in September the people of Scotland vote to continue to be part of the United Kingdom as there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that, “We’re better together.”

Over 50 million people in almost every corner of the world claim Scottish ancestry, with around 11 million in the United States alone, making the Scots the country’s 20140406_8 - Copyeighth largest ethnic group.  Links between the two countries are long established with half of those who signed the American Declaration of Independence and the Governors of 9 of the original 13 States all being of Scottish descent, these ‘Scottish’ Americans helping to shape the United States in its formative years and guide it through its most troubled times.   The first time Tartan Day was observed in the United States on a national level was in 1997, although it had previously been celebrated by individual states and, the following year, the Senate passed a resolution designating 6th April ‘National Tartan Day’.   

Tartan Day is an integral part of Tartan Week, now in its seventh year, a seven-day celebration of all things Scottish, from song and dance to food, fashion and photography although nowadays, with so many events to cram in, it actually lasts for 20 days.  In recent years, some believe that the Scottish Government has tried to hijack Tartan Week with an alternative event it calls Scotland Week, when the country is promoted as a modern, dynamic, innovative and welcoming nation, making it Europe’s number one holiday, business and study destination.

Although celebrations are held all over America and Canada, it’s New York that hosts the 0_0_0_0_224_310_csupload_17435848most popular Tartan Day events like the Scotland Run, celebrating its 11th anniversary this year, now a favourite in the city’s packed running calendar. The 10k run takes place in Central Park where a carnival atmosphere is enjoyed by runners and spectators dressed in tartan and Saltires, with a piper playing at each kilometre marker.  Central Park also plays host to the Scotland Run Festival featuring live music and dancing with lots of family friendly fun including face painting and photo-booths that will transport New Yorkers across the sea to Scotland!  Naturally, the Empire State Building celebrates this most special of Scottish days, sending beams of blue and white – tartan might be a bit tricky – across the night sky.

Some extra-special Scottish equine visitors have travelled to New York for this year’s Tartan Week.  They are maquettes of the Grangemouth Kelpies – 30- metre high sculptures of supernatural water horses from Celtic folklore which are believed to haunt the rivers and lochs of Scotland and Ireland.  Currently on display in Bryant Park, the whimsical horses stand resplendent against a backdrop of midtown Manhattan architecture and the New York Library which, incidentally, is the home of A.A. Milne’s teddy bear who was the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh.  The Kelpies will remain in New York until 22nd April, acting as cultural ambassadors for Grangemouth’s full-sized sculptures and creating a focal point for this year’s Scotland Week’s activities.


The undoubted highlight, though, is New York’s Tartan Day Parade which, when it began in 1998, attracted a mere 2 pipe bands and a small but spirited group of Scottish Americans, who walked from the British Consulate to the United Nations.  Nowadays, the parade has grown into a huge event with lots of bands and many thousands of participants from around the world.  As you might expect, there’s even an official parade tartan whose colours include the blue and white of the Scottish Saltire and green to represent the trees bordering 6th Avenue where the parade takes place.

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Finally, for those you love trivia, here are some fun facts about tartan, Tartan Day and Scotland:

2014pinThe world’s first colour photograph (taken in 1861) was of a tartan ribbon, though tartan only became popular after Queen Victoria expressed her fondness for all things Scottish.





Tartan Day Festivals are now held in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even in Scotland, while Scotland‘s top export destination is the USA.





2014pinThere are eight American towns called Aberdeen, eight called Edinburgh, seven called Glasgow and eight actually called Scotland, while thirteen of the country’s presidents have claimed Scottish ancestors. 






John MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, William Farquhar, co-founder of Singapore, Alexander Smith, who built the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Andrew Carnegie, the great philanthropist, all hailed from Scotland.




Scottish inventions include television, the telephone, ATM cash machines, RADAR, fingerprinting, the ultrasound, penicillin, insulin and MRI scanners, while research at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute resulted in the birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first-ever cloned mammal.

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This is the second time The Bears in the Windows have celebrated Tartan Week and, they had so much fun last year, there was no shortage of volunteers from both sides of the Atlantic to be part of this most Scottish of celebrations.  There is, of course, a mandatory piper who’s ‘entertaining’ bears wearing an assortment of tartans, including the panda tartan commisioned by Edinburgh Zoo, and an ursine Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building who have donned a touch of tartan to show their appreciation of America’s long association with Scotland, a country that has captured the imagination of so many people.

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