Tartan Day & Ancestry tours: the spit-free way to learning about where you came from.

by Alyssa Daniells
scotland loch ness travel scottish ancestry tours

Happy Tartan Day! To celebrate, here’s a wee post about its significance, Scottish heritage, and what’s up a kilt. We mean, what’s up with kilts.

“I always thought I was descended from the Arawaks of the Amazon. Turns out my ancestors weren’t from an isolated rainforest tribe, but from Scotland, of all places! Imagine my surprise! Guess I’d better trade in my loincloth, for a kilt…”

You’ve seen the ads. Tapping into your family ancestry is a big business.

Countless TV commercials these days entice you to discover your genealogy, by submitting family information into the ether of an online portal– and even your saliva.

eilean donna castle scotland ancestry tours travel scotland

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland. Could this be your ancestral abode? A bit draughty, but I believe that’s called a “fixer-upper.”

I feel lucky that I was able to forgo this process by seeing my mother’s homeland of Scotland in person. Although I did not take a Scotland genealogy travel tour, I could see how they are popular with many North Americans. In Canada’s early days, most of its settlers came from the UK and Ireland. Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minster, hailed from Glasgow, Scotland (I can just hear my Mum cheering, “hooray!” with that mention of her hometown.) Genealogy tours to France, Germany and Italy are also popular among descendants.

“Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.” -Winston S. Churchill

Tracing your family tree online can uncover a lot of cool documents, (yay, technology!) and even your bloodline (yay, science!) but those methods  fall short when it comes to actually walking in the footsteps of your ancestors. Speaking of fall (it’s easy to fall in love with Scotland. And, I’m a klutz.) and walking (Scotland is great for touring on foot, as long as you’re wearing Wellies.)

Those Scottish genes look good on you!

Glasgow scotland police box blue buchanan street

Visting your ancestor’s homeland can be a great way of travelling back in time. Or, you can hop in an old blue police box, just like Dr. Who and his time travel machine. As seen on Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Scotland.

To a Scot, the real ancestral interest is one’s family (clan) tartan. The tartan is worn proudly and is among the most powerful symbols of Scotland and Scottish ancestry. Generally speaking, clans have several varying tartans, one assigned to specific usages, such as ceremonial or warfare. The warp and weft –that’s the length and width–of the colour arrangement and weave, creates the distinct checkered pattern of the myriad of tartans. Clans have their own hues and varying warps and wefts of the intersecting threads. This creates a square-like appearance, known as a “sett.”

One of the precious things I learned from my most recent visit to Scotland, after visiting an old friend of my deceased grandparents, that my Grandpa was trained as a kilt maker. A precious tidbit of my maternal side’s history, or dare I say, a thread in our family fabric!



A Wee History of Tartan Day

April 6 was designated as Tartan Day in Canada, USA and of course, Scotland, because it’s my Mum’s birthday and she’s Scottish. Just kidding (it really is her birthday, though.) It marks the Declaration of Arbroath, when Scotland’s independence was signed on this date in 1320 (sidenote: that is not Mum’s birth year. I think she’d like you to know that.) I always find ancient dates like that interesting, considering Canada is a youthful 150 years old. Even younger is Tartan Day itself, which only came into existence in 1988. It’s now expanded into a week-long celebration called Scotland Week in its country of origin, with Scottish promotions in North America.

Glasgow, Scotland, UK, Europe

Tartan Day in Canada

That we establish a day known as ‘Tartan Day’. This to be a day chosen to promote Scottish Heritage by the most visible means. The wearing of the Scottish attire, especially in places where the kilt is not ordinarily worn, i.e.: work, play or worship. — The Federation of Scottish Clans, Nova Scotia, March 9, 1986.

This is the list of Canadian provinces, in the order of which Tartan Day was proclaimed:

Nova Scotia – 6 April 1987

Ontario – 19 December 1991

British Columbia – 25 March 1992

Prince Edward Island – 2 April 1992

Saskatchewan – 6 April 1992

Manitoba – 6 April 1992

Alberta – 6 April 1992

New Brunswick – 6 April 1993

Newfoundland & Labrador – 6 April 1995

Québec – 18 December 2003

Easy Tips to see if a Scotland Ancestry Tour is Right for you

  • You’re a technophobic Luddite (probably not if you’re reading this webpage) so ancestry websites aren’t for you.
  • Aren’t into the idea of mailing your spit to strangers in a mysterious lab for genetic examination
  • You have an inexplicable hankering for haggis
  • You are Scottish
  • You call tartan by its proper name, and not plaid
  • You have a cousin who goes by Nessie who lives in a loch
  • You aren’t even Scottish, but love history, single malts and friendly people!

Finding Your Roots

My roots are important to me. (When I see grey ones, I’ll book a hair appointment.) Seriously though, as a Canadian I am grateful for our multiculturalism, and this includes the acknowledgement of Tartan Day.

A Last Wee Word

Gentlemen – The Tartan!
Here’s to it!
The fighting sheen of it,
The yellow, the green of it,
The white, the blue of it,
The swing, the hue of it,
The dark, the red of it,
Every thread of it!The fair have sighed for it,
The brave have died for it,
Foeman have sought for it,
Heroes fought for it,
Honour the name of it, Drink to the fame of it,
The Tartan!by Murdoch MacLean.

So there you have it. Whether you’re a lad wearing plaid, or raising a toast to Scotland with a Drambuie or Dalwhinnie, say Slainte! to Tartan Day! Contact a Flight Centre travel agent to book a trip this summer to bonny Scotland, or perhaps the homeland of your genealogy.

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