National Tartan DayYesterday the US officially celebrated National Tartan Day. It’s observed on April 6 every year in commemoration of the signing of the Scottish Declaration of Independence on April 6, 1320. In the US, we acknowledge it because the Scottish Declaration of Independence was the document upon which we based our own Declaration of Independence, and almost half of the signers of our declaration were of Scottish descent. We also want to recognize people of Scottish descent because, let’s face it, they’re great people and they’ve done some wonderful things.

To celebrate National Tartan Day, major cities host parades with bagpipers playing Scottish music. Many of the marchers wear kilts in traditional Tartan plaids to represent the clans from which they descended. And many special events are held during which awards are given to people of Scottish heritage for outstanding achievements or accomplishments, the most noted of which is hosted by the American Scottish Foundation.

A lot of nationalities get months devoted to them for observation, or have well known holidays that everyone celebrates. Very few people are aware of National Tartan Day. I am part Scottish on my father’s side, and I have to admit, I didn’t even know about it. In fact, my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, was founded by one of the country’s most famous Scots (Andrew Carnegie), and we never celebrated the event on campus.

It’s a shame the day isn’t more well known.

If you read my blog frequently, you know I think it’s imperative that we embrace our heritage. It’s impossible to own who we are if we refuse to acknowledge where we came from. (Agree? Tweet it.)

I may not wear Tartan kilts, play bagpipes, eat haggis, or drink whisky (well, I’ll let you guess which one of those I do), but you can bet my ancestors did. And every buckle that was fastened, every note that was played, every morsel that was eaten, and every drop that was drunk eventually led my father’s family to Pennsylvania and to me being born.

I believe in the butterfly effect. One less shot of whisky in my family tree, and I might not be here. That’s a sobering thought. (Sorry. I had to write that.)

So, to my actual family, to my Carnegie Mellon family, and to my Scottish family around the world… Happy National Tartan Day!

Lang may yer lum reek!


May you live long and stay well.

For Writers: Are you considering the butterfly effect in your WIP? I’m not talking about writing a time-travel story where you change one event and everything ends up different (although you could, but that’s been done). I’m talking about plotting out your WIP and asking the “What if” question. Not just at the beginning of your work, when you’re working on a concept, but the whole way through.

  • You plan on Dick and Jane meeting in chapter one and going for coffee? What if they have a fight?
  • You plan on Dick and Jane escaping the shoot-out with Dick’s arm grazed? What if Jane has an abdominal wound instead?
  • You plan on Dick and Jane falling in love by chapter fifteen? What if Jane’s first love comes back from being MIA in Iraq in chapter fourteen?

The butterfly effect isn’t just a concept for a book or movie, and the “what if” technique isn’t just a question to ask when you’re looking for a premise for a story. Consider employing this method throughout your WIP to ramp up the tension and the action, or to throw in an unexpected twist to the plot.

So, did anyone celebrate National Tartan Day? Is anyone asking “what if”? Let’s talk.

photo via Lazarin/


6 Responses

  1. I never knew about this day and love the idea of the butterfly effect in writing. I’m Scottish on my father’s side. My maiden name, Camburn, is said to have been a misspelling on a land grant for a large tract in the area of current New Jersey signed by the authorities in Scotland in the seventeenth century. Originally, we were just another “Cameron.” Although many other stories have surfaced over the years on how the name came to be, my favorite, but unlikely story credits the name from the sword of King Arthur, named Caliburn and then changed through the centuries to Camburn. I never thought much about that heritage because it was so far removed from me and never emphasized in my family. Thanks as always for your research and sharing!

    • That lineage is fascinating. It sounds like a story in the making. Even if you don’t use it in a novel, perhaps a novella or short story… These are the details that make a character rich, but honestly, the story is an interesting one in and of itself. Glad it got you thinking.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I had not heard of National Tartan Day, and a good chunk of my ancestry is Scottish. Last year, I celebrated National Icelandic Day by having a sale on my books since Iceland plays a large part throughout.

    • I haven’t heard of National Icelandic Day. I have some Swedish ancestry, so I’m guessing there’s probably one of those, too. It’s funny the things we learn when we start researching our heritage. I know I like your books; now I have to research Sweden and see if and when their day is.

  3. Oh my goodness, I didn’t know about National Tartan Day (and I have Scottish ancestry!) Great idea about using the butterfly effect throughout a manuscript. I’ll incorporate it into my WIP.

    • You know, there’s probably a day for just about everything, but I think we should take the time to acknowledge the things that helped shape who we are. You and I both have Scottish ancestry and we didn’t know about it. The Scottish Declaration of Independence was the basis of our own, and most people don’t know that, either. I felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to give the day the recognition it was due.

      And the butterfly effect tip? I think I could benefit from using it more myself. Glad you found it useful.

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