NYC Tartan Week celebrates Scottish-Americans with a parade, dancing and more

NYC Tartan Week kicked off on Monday with kilted yoga expert Finlay Thomas Wilson atop VistScotland's official Coo Van. The week celebrates all things Scottish with a parade, dancing, whisky tastings and much more.
NYC Tartan Week kicked off on Monday with kilted yoga expert Finlay Thomas Wilson atop VistScotland’s official Coo Van. The week celebrates all things Scottish with a parade, dancing, whisky tastings and much more.

The Irish may have St. Patrick’s Day, but the Scottish have an entire week.

From April 1 to 8, New York City will celebrate the contributions Scots have made in the U.S. with a Tartan Day Parade and multiple dance, food and cultural events.

For instance, did you know the song "Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns is a Scots-language poem set to a traditional folk song? Or that 33 U.S. presidents had Scottish ancestry? Even Mickey Mouse was voiced by a Scot for 40 years.

According to Scotsman Michael McCuish, VisitScotland’s consumer PR manager of visitor marketing, there’s much to celebrate.

"We may be small, but Scotland has given the world such inventions as penicillin, the telephone, the television, bicycles, golf, the tire, and Sam Heughan from "Outlander," to name but a few," he said. "Scotland is a very modern, progressive and forward-thinking country. This innovation and strive for progress is continued today with the county leading the way in cutting-edge industries and societal advancement. Scotland holds fantastic records in LGTBQ rights, gender equality, and the push for sustainability. It also means that our whisky and gin just keeps getting better and better."

Here’s what you need to know about Tartan Week:

What is Tartan Week? 

It started with one day.

April 6 is National Tartan Day, which was memorialized in 1998 by the U.S. Senate to recognize the contributions of Scottish-Americans. The next year, a small group of Scottish-Americans gathered with two pipe bands and marched from the British consulate to the United Nations building. The procession has grown substantially in its 21 years to include hundreds of pipes and thousands of spectators.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the National Tartan Day New York Committee was formed to organize Tartan-themed events. There were so many that they decided to celebrate it all during "Tartan Week."

"Tartan" is actually the plaid fabric that Scottish clansmen would wear on their kilts. Clans today still have official tartans attributed to their names, too. 

"There remains an intrinsic link between the American and the Scottish people, especially in New York," McCuish said. "There is a huge and enthusiastic Scottish diaspora in America, but the ties go deeper than that; there is a sense of aligned culture and purpose. Scotland is one of the most inclusive and welcoming countries in the world — we don’t shy away from strangers, we talk to them, we dance with them, and we engage with them. New York is the perfect location for this ethos to flourish."

So, when is it?

It all kicks off on April 1 and wraps up on April 8.

When and where is the parade? 

On Saturday, April 6, pipers and drummers will step off at 2 p.m. on Sixth Avenue at West 45th Street and march to 55th Street.

Who will we see in the parade?

Sir Billy Connolly, the stand-up comedian, musician and actor who the Scotts nicknamed the "Big Yin," is leading the parade as grand marshal, followed by solo pipers, full pipe bands, drummers, highland dancers, Scottish clans in kilts and excitingly, Scottish dogs. (The dogs will be judged in a competition by Connolly’s wife, Dr. Pamela Stephenson, who is an acclaimed psychologist.)

“I’m thrilled to be this year’s grand marshal of the New York City Tartan Day Parade," Connolly said in a statement on nyctartanweek.org. "I can’t wait to hear all those bagpipes echoing off the skyscrapers and to see Sixth Avenue awash with thousands of swaying kilts. It’s going to be brilliant.”

Past grand marshals have included actor Sean Connery (2002), actor Alan Cumming (2009), KT Tunstall (2018) and many others. 

How else can I celebrate?

There are many events throughout the next two weeks, from kilted yoga to a dance workshop and a whisky tasting.

McCuish said he loves a good dance.

"I find it hard to beat the fun and excitement of a Scottish ceilidh (a Scottish gathering with a band where there is a selection of supposedly organized dances which everyone can join in on)," he said. "There is usually a person called ‘a caller’ who walks everyone through the steps of the dances, which can be in twos, threes, or larger groups depending on the song. Then the music starts … it is basically just frenetic excitement and musical abandon. You will most likely leave a little sweatier than before, and with a few dancing bruises which you are strangely very proud of."

Here are some of our favorite celebrations:

  • April 1: Kilted yoga, bagpipes and a Coo Van — The "kilted yogi" Finlay Thomas Wilson will pose "Scottish style" to a bagpipe session, and a van outfitted to look like a Scottish cow will be parked in Greeley Square (Between Sixth Avenue and Broadway and 32nd and 33rd streets) from 7:30 to 9 a.m.
  • April 3: Learn to dance the Scottish Ceilidh — Instructors from the New York Caledonian Club will teach you how to dance the traditional Scottish country reels that are performed during social gatherings. No experience or partners needed. Tickets are $25 per person or $35 per couple and it begins at 1 p.m. at Ripley Grier Studios (520 Eighth Ave.).
  • April 5: Pre-Tartan Day Parade Ceilidh — This Scottish social gathering includes a night of traditional Scottish folk dancing to live music by Whisky Kiss, performances by Shot of Scotch Highland dancers, food and more, from 7 to 11 p.m. at the New York Caledonian Club (3 W. 95th St.) Tickets are $65 per person.
  • April 6: Pipes & Drums on the Fountain Terrace: Head to Bryant Park before the parade at 11:15 a.m. to hear some leading pipe bands for free.
  • April 6: Post-parade parties — You’ve seen the parade, now it’s time to raise a glass. Bands Whisky Kiss, Drums and Roses, and Elephant Sessions will perform live at Sony Hall, which will also have an open bar, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $50. If you want to continue the celebrations, head to the Tailor Public House (505 Eighth Ave.), which will have drink specials and live music across its two floors and three bars.
  • April 7: An Afternoon with Winterface: Àdhamh Ó Broin and Noel Graham — Ó Broin, the Gaelic tutor for the show "Outlander," and musician Graham will perform Gaelic, traditional Scottish and original music as the troubadour band Winterface at The Tailor (505 Eighth Ave.) from 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $25.
  • April 8: A Taste of Scotland with Words and Whisky — Sip on whisky from Glendronach Single Malt Scotch Distillery and feast on dishes by Gary Maclean, Scotland’s national chef and winner of the BBC’s 2016 "MasterChef: The Professionals." More details to be announced.
  • Carnegie Hall’s "Migrations: The Making of America" festival also has Scotland-centric events, including a free talk about the Scottish impact on America called "Global Scotland" on April 2 at 6 p.m.; a lecture on "The Scots Who Built New York" on April 3 and an exhibit about Andrew Carnegie, who migrated to America from Scotland, that is ongoing.