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Blog

Your Celtic Wedding - Part 1 - Handfasting

By Erik Munnrson March 28, 2017

Handfasting, like kilts, is a celtic wedding tradition

 

 

"Tying the knot" is more than a slang expression.

 

"Handfasting", in which a couple literally have their hands tied together with a cord, was just one of many marriage forms permitted under the ancient Irish "Brehon" Law. The man and woman who came together for the hand-fasting agreed to stay together for a specific period of time. Usually it was "a year and a day." At the end of the year, the couple could enter into a "permanent" marriage contract, renew their agreement for another year, or go their separate ways.

 

 

 Ancient Irish couples used the handfasting to show their vows

 

 

The handfasting custom, which started in pagan times, continued throughout the post-Christianization period and spread throughout Celtic lands, not merely Ireland. It was practical. In a rural village with no resident priest, you could do a handfasting with just a single witness.  Later on, a priest could "finish up" the wedding with a Christian ceremony. Handfasting cords were also far more affordable than wedding rings!

 

 

 handfasting can be a great addition to both exotic as well as traditional weddings

 

 

Nowadays, the practice is often included as part of a larger wedding ceremony, usually as the couple speak their vows. For this, you will want to have on hand a piece of braided cord (perhaps in wedding colors) or ribbon. Best of all is to have a strip of the family tartan (remnants from the making of a kilt are great). If both families have tartans, you may want to braid the two together to enhance the symbolism. Flower garlands, ivy, and fancy decorative ribbon, even remnants from vintage wedding gowns can also be used to create handfasting chords which can become heirloom items. 

 

 

The symbolism of handfasting is powerful, especially for couples of irish and Scottish ancestry 

 

 

Here's a sample version of the handfasting ceremony you can share with your officiant:


Officiant speaks:
"Groom" and "Bride" wish to close this ceremony with the traditional Celtic handfasting. This symbolic binding of hands is the source of terms like "Bonds of Holy Matrimony" and to "tie the knot."  Throughout the history of our ancestors, and in many parts of the world, this act has symbolized the 
commitment of two people, one to the other. While the cords themselves are impermanent, much the way life on earth is, the bond they rpresent, the true bond of love, is undying. 


"Bride", "Groom", please join your right hands.



As you hold hands, the cord is wrapped around your wrists in a figure eight -- a symbol of eternity. You can also hold hands and touch your elboys together and have the officiant wrap the cord around your forearms. Either way, it should be lose enough for you to hold hands comfortablly, perhaps while kissing, and also for when you recess from the ceremony. 

 

"Groom" and "Bride",  this cord symbolizes your two lives. Once seperate, they are now bound together as one. Where you have lived seperately in thought, word and action, now you move into the future together. May you find joy, satisfaction and growth in all things. May your life together be a blessing for you, and for all those lives you will touch. 


End. You can now have the officiant introduce you as a a married couple and close the ceremony.  However, the handfasting can be done at almost any point in a wedding celebration. It is a nice way to join together while reciting your vows.  Get creative and make it your own special moment!

 

More on Celtic Wedding Traditions coming up!

 

All walks of life enjoy the handfasting ceremony. Its meaning is timeless.

Tartan Day is April 6!

By Erik Munnrson March 21, 2017

Scottish bagpipe bands strut their stuff for NYC Tartan Day parade

 

Tartan Day has become such a big deal it is hard to believe the holiday is so young.

Now, New York City has gone so far as to declare the days surrounding April 6th “Tartan Week” to accommodate all the festivities. Meanwhile, many other cities around the USA have inaugurated their own Tartan Day celebrations. At last count, there are around 6 million people of Scottish descent in the US. No wonder Tartan Day is growing!

 

The first American Tartan Day was started in NYC by the New York Caledonian Club on July 1, 1982. It was a one-time-only celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of the repeal of the ‘Act of Proscription’ of 1747. This was the infamous British law which forbade Scots from wearing Tartan as well as other elements of national dress. Everyone had a good time, but the event was stand-alone.

 

It was not until 1998 that the Coalition of Scottish Americans successfully lobbied the Senate to draft a resolution designating April 6 as ‘National Tartan Day’. But that wasn’t the end of the process -- other resolutions followed. Finally in 2008, President George W. Bush issued a proclamation setting National Tartan Day in stone. As the proclamation states, the holiday officially recognizes that "Americans of Scottish descent have made enduring contributions to our Nation with their hard work, faith, and values. On National Tartan Day, we celebrate the spirit and character of Scottish Americans and recognize their many contributions to our culture and our way of life."

 

 Scottish Americans were pivotal during the revolutionary War

 

So why April 6th?

On April 6, 1320, Scottish magnates and nobles gathered at Arbroath Abbey to set their seals on a letter to Pope John XXII. This document, called the Declaration of Arbroath, asserted Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign nation with the right to use force of arms if unjustly attacked. It has been called “the Scottish Declaration of Independance” and many believe it was a strong influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States. A great number of the founding fathers were of Scottish descent. And Thomas Jefferson, who wrote our Declaration of Independance, had a Scottish tutor. So even if they did not refer directly to the ancient document, it is quite reasonable to imagine that its spirit was passed down to these brave men culturally.

 

 The Declaration of Arbroath influenced the American declaration of independence

 

Kilt up for Tartan Day!

All over the world, people of Scottish descent dress up to celebrate. Naturally, the holiday is a great excuse to sharpen up your highland wear outfit, even if you already own a kilt. (you knew we'd get a plug in here somewhere, didn't you?) Scottish national symbols you will see worn with pride this weekend include...

 

 

National symbls of Scotland appear on many kilt accessories
  The Saltire -- the Scottish flag featuring a white "X" on a blue field.

 

 

St. Andrew was crucified on an "X", or Roman, cross.
  The Scottish flag is a heraldic representation of the Cross of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland.
 

 

 

The royal rampant lion of the Sewarts
  Another very popular symbol is the Rampant Lion -- heraldic symbol of the Kings of Scotland
.  

 

 

The thistle is an ancient Scottish symbol
  And of course, the Scottish thistle -- perhaps the most ancient of Scottish national symbols.

 

Check Your Events Calendar!

Tartan Day parades and other activities are held by St Andrew's Societies throughout the nation. Most events take place on the weekend closest to April 6. Major cities with long-running Tartan Day celebrations include New York City (still the biggest!), St. Charles, Missouri, Washington DC, Baltimore, Alexandria, Virginia and San Diego, California. Hundreds of pipe bands perform. There are also Highland dancers, dog shows, pub crawls, you name it. So get ready to show your Scottish and American pride and have a grand time!

 

Happy Tartan Day!

 

Tartan Day festivities include many Scottish traditions

Military Kilts for Living History

By Erik Munnrson March 9, 2017

Are you a kilted living historian? Maybe you portray a World War I Canadian infrantryman. Or perhaps a World War II British officer.

If so, you know how hard it is to find a kilt that looks accurate, is made to spec and is actually durable enough to survive the average weekend event. 

 

 WWI Canadian Kilt

 

We learned about this problem through one of our senior kilt-makers, Dan "Mac" McMichael, who does WWI, WWII and other periods as well. Apparently, it's a common complaint that the right kilt for the job is hard to find, to say the least. And it may look alright using the 10-foot rule, but that doesn't mean it is right or that it won't fall apart. We picked Mac's brain for a bit more info...

 

What about wearing an actual surplus kilt? 

"I've opened up packages with surplus kilts in them and the fumes from the formaldehyde will make you keel over, " Mac says. "Those things don't become surplus until they have been really beaten up. Or they have been in grandma's attic for sixty years and are full of holes. A lot of the time the threads and leather are rotted."

 

So who is making decent reproduction kilts? 

"In my opinion, nobody. That's why Rocky and I discussed the idea of doing them. The ones I have seen are almost always felted wool-acryllic blend fabric. The pattern looks blurry. The overall quality of material and construction is not what I'd want.  And I wouldn't want to get anything Arcrylic near fire!"

 

badly made reproduction kilts and surplus kilts both tend to fall apart



We asked Mac to spec out what makes a proper reenactment kilt. One thing led to another, and now we are making them on a custom basis. So, you can get a Reproduction Kilt made by a kilt maker who is also a long-time living historian.  

 

Here are the specs on our standard Reproduction Military Kilt:

  • Custom Fit with correct 4" Military Rise
  • Cloth: 16oz 100% Scottish Tartan Wool
  • Tartans: Cameron, Gordon, Blackwatch, MacKenzie, Royal Stewart, and more 
  • Waist Band:  1 1/4" Twill Tape in military sage
  • Lining: Undyed Cotton or Linen (we prefer the linen as it holds up better)
  • Straps: 1 1/4" Leather straps with veg tan finish. NO hip strap (for accuracy)
  • Buckles: Chromed Steel
  • Loops: None (for accuracy)
  • Fringe on Apron: None (for accuracy)
  • Pleats: Knife Only (sorry, no box pleats) - We will pleat to the Sett or the Stripe of your choice
  • Production Time: 6-10 Weeks - 3 WEEK RUSH AVAILABLE for additional charge
  • Price: Approx. $600
 
 Military Kilt made to Proper Specs
 
 
Properly constructed with hand-sewn details

 

 What else should renactors know when they order a military kilt from USA Kilts?

Mac points out, "The exact pleating and other details of a kilt could change based on the unit, manufacturer, time it was made, materials available -- all that. I have seen countless examples of kilts done for the same unit with different pleating. The best thing would be to provide us with a photograph of what you are hoping for as well as unit information, year, specs -- whatever you got. We will do our best to recreate a match. But remember -- a few details may be a bit different. Usually because we are making the kilt to be hard-wearing. "

 

PLEASE NOTE: These kilts are made custom to your measurements. As a result they are non-returnable. They cost a bit more than our regular 8-yard kilts, but we are trying to keep the cost down -- budget around $600.  If you want to share this page with your unit and friends, we'd be grateful, but bear in mind this product will not appear for sale on our website -- it's just for you guys. So please share our email ( rocky@usakilts.com ) or phone number and order with us over the phone: 800-368-8633

Do Irish Wear Kilts?

By Erik Munnrson February 23, 2017

It’s a perennial question with a lot of confusion. Did Irish people wear kilts? The short answer is yes, but not for as long as the Scots. While kilts in Scotland can be dated back some 300 years or more, Irishmen folk have only kilted up for the past 100 years. Still, there’s no tradition like a new tradition! How did it come about? It’s all about nationalism and Gaelic pride.

 

 

Throughout the Middle Ages, Irish men wore a long linen tunic called the Lein-croich. There are many depictions of it in stone carvings and other art like the 16th-century painting of Irish warriors below. In these images, the saffron-dyed Lein-croich is often bunched up around the body and the men are bare legged. This led some later observers to mistake it for a Great Kilt such as the Scots wore.

 

 

The first documented use of a true kilt in Ireland was by students and faculty of the Saint Enda’s School around 1910. The school was founded by Irish nationalist Patrick Pierce and his peers to boost Irish pride and a reconnection to Gaelic culture and language (the "Gaelic Revival"). The school fostered the idea of the kilt as a pan-celtic garment and supplied kilts to dance students.

 

 

You might expect the first Irish kilts to be Kelly green, but not so. In fact, the very first ones worn by the nationalists were blue; the canonical color of Saint Patrick. Around the time of World War One, Irish units serving in the British military adopted Saffron for parade and pipe band uniforms -- a tradition which continues to this day.

 

  

 

Modernly, there are many beautiful Irish tartans for proud Irishmen to choose from. Since the 1990's, each county has had its own (unofficial) distinct tartan. While a few Irish families do have tartans associated with them, most people trace their ancestry back to a county of origin and wear that tartan. This is especially popular in the USA. In fact, more Irish Americans kilt up than Irish natives, including many pipe bands across the country. Military branch tartans are also very popular with Irish American service people.

 

 

There are also several universal tartans for people of Irish descent. And while county tartans are usually only available in wool, these universals are available in PV (polyviscose), so you can enjoy a cool, machine-washable kilt for Saint Patrick’s Day festivities as well as casual wear at festivals or the pub. Here are the top universal Irish kilt favorites available from USA Kilts:

 


Kelly Green
- as universally Irish as the Shamrock and very popular with those who  want a simple look (or to show off a really gorgeous sporran).

 


Tara
- the oldest recorded Irish tartan. Originally known as “Murphy” in Victorian times, it is named for the Mound of Tara where the ancient irish kings were crowned.

 


Ireland’s National
- The colors of the flag of Ireland set against rich black.

 


Irish American
- Designed especially for the sons and daughters of proud Irish immigrants.

 


Irish Heritage
- Classic kelly green and silver on black. Fans of a certain Boston punk band may find it familiar! Also an elegant tartan for dressing up.

 


Saffron
- The “color of the kings” hearkening back to medieval Ireland and also honoring Irish military men.

 


Scruffy Wallace
- A USA Kilts original designed especially for the famous Boston rock bagpiper himself. (Limited Edition while supplies last!)

 

Kilting may not be an old Irish custom, but it is a grand one.  Gaelic men live life to the fullest and that's what kilts are all about, lads!  
Naturally we hope you will choose to kilt up to celebrate your Irish heritage. And when you do, please remember we also proudly carrythe widest selection of Irish kilt accessories around -- many custom-designed USA Kilts Exclusives!

 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

 

Host a Burns Supper!

By Eric M. January 11, 2017

January 25th marks the annual celebration of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796). Tributes to the man and his art are held around the world on this night in the form of the 'Burns Supper'. The first recorded supper was held in 1801 around the anniversary of the Bard's death by a small group of friends and acquaintances. The suppers are now held annually on the date of his birth, January 25th.

Robert Burns 

 

Burns Suppers, theoretically, are meant to be informal with an air of rustic simplicity -- romantic ideals of Highland life which Burns extolled in his poetry. However, modern Burns Suppers vary in style and level of formality according to the hosting group's vision. They can be as simple as a party held at a local pub, or as formal as a black tie affair. Regardless, there are certain ritual elements which must be included to make it a true Burns Supper...

 

After the guests have gathered, the host will say a few words of introduction. After everyone is seated, the host or another speaker will recite the Lowland Scots 'Selkirk Grace', also known as the 'Galloway Grace' or the 'Covenanters' Grace':


Some hae meat and canna eat,
  And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
  Sae let the Lord be thankit.
And sae the Lord be thankit


Burns is said to have delivered an extempore version in Standard English at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk on St. Mary's Isle:


Some have meat and cannot eat,
  Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
  So let the Lord be thankit.


A starter of soup is then served; usually Scots broth or Cock-a-Leekie.  The main event of the meal comes next: the Piping in of the Haggis. A large, piping-hot Haggis (called by Burns "the 'great chieftain o' the puddin'-race") is carried into the dining room on a tray with a bottle of whisky and glasses. A piper leads the procession playing 'A Man's A Man' or another Burns song. The haggis is set down before the host, who now recites Burns' famous 'Address to a Haggis'.

 

As he reaches the line of the poem, "His knife see rustic Labour dicht, An' cut you up wi' ready slicht", the host draws his Sgian Dubh and plunges it into the haggis, slicing it open from end to end in dramatic fashion. A whisky toast is then proposed to the haggis. Mashed potatoes (champit tatties) and turnips (bashed neeps) traditionally accompany the haggis.


After the meal is concluded, one of the guests delivers a speech commemorating Burns and proposes a toast to the great man, known as the "Immortal Memory." A second toast is made "to the lassies" in recognition of Burns' fondness for the fair sex. Oftentimes, a female guest will reply with a humorous toast "to the laddies."


After the speeches, there may be singing of songs by Burns. Some Suppers include Scottish country dancing and many dance clubs host Burns Suppers as an occasion to hold a cilidh. Whisky tastings are also popular.


At the very end of the evening, the guests will stand together to sing Auld Lang Syne; the Burns song which has become an international anthem of camaraderie and has been translated into over thirty different languages.


Want to host your own Burns Supper?

It's not hard to do! Haggis, despite a lot of bad jokes here in the USA, is a very tasty dish you can make yourself (see the recipe below). You'll want to invest in a nice bottle of whisky and, naturally, a volume of Burns' poetry. Another nice touch is to play some of the music composed by the Bard. We recommend "The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, Vol. 1 & 2" available from various online sellers and including interpretations by a variety of accomplished Celtic musicians.


MAKE YOUR OWN HAGGIS

Here is a classic Haggis recipe you can make in a common casserole dish (no sheep’s stomach required!)


Haggis


Ingredients:

18 oz ground lamb
18 oz ground beef
5 oz suet (beef or vegetable)
4 oz oats
1 1/4 cup stock (you can strain this from the boiled meat, or use a prepared beef stock)
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
sea salt
ground black pepper


1. Preheat your oven to 320° F.

2. Cover the lamb & beef with water and bring to the boil in a large pot. Simmer for about 40 minutes and cool. Save the stock from the meat.

4. Roughly chop and toast the oats in a hot pan, shaking occasionally to make sure they don't burn.

5. Mix all the ingredients together with the stock and transfer to a well-greased casserole dish and cover with a layer of tin-foil.

6. Place in a water bath using a pan large enough to accommodate the dish and add boiling water around it. The water should come about 3/4 of the way up the side of the dish. Check this occasionally and top up the water level. Cook for about 2 1/2 hours and serve immediately with whisky sauce and mashed potatoes and turnips.



Traditional Whisky Sauce:

2 cups cream
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbls Dijon mustard
2 tsp Irish whiskey
sea salt
ground white pepper
3 tbls chopped scallions


Heat the cream in a pan over a medium heat. Add mustards, scallions and whisky and whisk together. Increase heat until the mixture is simmering. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes until it thickens up a bit. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

15 Tips for enjoying Highland Games & Festivals

By Eric M. June 2, 2016

Festival season is here! Whether it's Highland Games or a Celtic Music Festival, you are in for an awesome time. But in case you're new to the scene, here are our top 15 tips for attending a Celtic Festival...

  

1. Check the event's web site before going in case they have an online/downloadable program, guide to parking and amenities, a map, etc.

 

2. Arrive early. Parking can be a bit dicy at some festivals and occasionally, you have to take a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the festival.

 

3. Bring a backpack. For anything that won't fit in your sporran, a backpack is essential. It will allow you to keep your arms free for food, selfies, dancing, shopping, etc.

 

4. Hydrate! Yes, you will be able to buy beverages, but you will wait in line for them. Sun, excitement, walking and dancing takes it out of you - bring a bottle of water!

 

5. Wear sun screen and bring a hat. Even if the festival is in the fall (with presumably cooler weather) you will want these.

 

6. Dress in, or at least bring along layers. Weather at festivals can change dramatically and you should assume you'll want to stay well into the evening for concerts when it will be cooler. A packable windbreaker or rain jacket is a great idea. Or, go piper and bring a Rain Cape.

 

7. Bring cash. Lots of vendors will take cards, but cash is still really handy and won't fail you if the merchant's connection is down. It may also be needed for buying food tickets.

 

8. Speaking of food, bring small snacks such as energy bars, fruit and nuts. Festival food is great fun, but sometimes waiting in line isn't.  Or you may be a parent with picky eaters. Or you may need a pick-me-up after an evening concert when the food vendors have shut down.

 

9. Wear comfortable shoes. We've mentioned lines already, but there's also a lot of walking and standing during performances. And remember, there will be crowds -- open-toed shoes and flip-flops won't keep your toes from getting crushed.  Sneakers or ankle boots are the ticket.

 

10. Make sure your devices are fully charged and have room for photos/videos.

 

11. Apply Body Glide. Trust us. It is your friend.

 

12. Bring a spare pair of hose. This is always good advice for pipers.  Hose can get dirty or sweaty after a long day.

 

13. Bring ear plugs - these days this is a common concert-goer's precaution. And no, we don't necessarily mean you will need them for pipe bands. Most pipe band performances will be in open areas where the sound can dissipate. However, folk- and pub-rock acts in side venues may have some pretty loud amps punching out the tunes.

 

14. When shopping, you can use your camera (with the merchant's permission) to take shots of products you like or the merchant's name/info. This can help you remember where you saw "X" so you can go back and get it before leaving the festival.

 

15. Finally, wear a kilt! You knew we'd say that, right? Well, we also want you to wear the right kilt. if you want to dress up in your clan tartan 8 yard, go for it. However, given what we've been saying about crowds, heat and physical activity, our personal favorite festival kilt is the USA Kilts Casual. In a nutshell, it's...

 

- Light-weight, machine-washable fabric with No-Pill technology

- Teflon-coated for optimal (beer) stain resistance!

- Secure Velcro closure system - no belt required, no bulky straps and buckles!

- Over 100 tartans available!

- Custom-made for YOU

- Select tartans in stock for immediate delivery

 

Our Casual Kilts are built to outlast Highland athletics, marathons, tough-mudders, through-hiking and even all-night Guinness sessions.  Grab yours now and we'll see you at the Festival!

Happy Tartan Day!

By Eric M. April 2, 2016

Happy Tartan Day April 6

 

I’m going to recount an old tale. One you have heard before.


On April 16 1746, a ragtag band of men hobbled, weak from hunger and bloody with wounds, away from a field called Culloden. The tatters of their kilts caught on the heather. Their legs were scratched by thistle as they made their escape into the hills and glens of their homeland. A home which soon they would not be able to call their own. They carried little besides their pride. And a forlorn hope for the return of their leader, the Bonny prince.

 

In the years that followed, from 1746 to 1782, the men and women of Scotland hid their pride, along with their traditional dress and armaments. The so called Proscriptions imposed by the English crown and the nominal government in Edinburg sought to make these, as well as the lifestyle they represented, a mere memory. Or worse, an embarrassment a backward way of life no modern enlightened man would admit to loving. But the seeds of the old thistle simply slept tucked away in mattresses. Hidden under the floor. Wrapped in oil cloth in the bottom of a trunk.  And also in cryptic songs and poems. Waiting to bloom once more.

 

And bloom it did. With wild abandon. As soon as the proscriptions were lifted, Scottish Societies sprang up in Edinburgh and London seizing the time to revive old Highland dress, music, customs and culture. The tartan reappeared from under the bed clothes. Clan chiefs and ordinary folk began to wear tartan once more. Pipes once again echoed across the glens and lochs. And the soul of Scotland was heard in the songs of Robert Burns and the tales of Sir Walter Scott

 

All this proved the English had been wrong Scotsmen could look both backward and forward. 

 

The revival became a fever. Until one fateful day in 1822 King George the Fourth of England visited Edinburgh. The first visit of a reigning monarch to Scotland since 1650. Pride walked hand in hand with royalty as the English king processed the streets in full tartan regalia, kilt and all, surrounded by clan chiefs and the Royal Company of Archers. Tartan blazed as never before.

 

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? But there is much more to our story than old battles and the pageantry of the elite. You might say there is more to tartan... than tartan. 

 

Indeed, by the time of the King’s visit, tartan had been traveling the world for over 80 years. Wrapped in plaids and shawls, hundreds upon hundreds of the children of Scotland had crossed icy waters to new lands.

 

Many were soldiers, fighting for Britain in North America, India, France, Spain and more. The sons of Scotland tasted blood and inhaled gun smoke in places whose names they had never heard before Assayee, New Orleans, Waterloo, Paoli and Balaclava.

 

Still thousands more were civilians desperate for a new start. Scotland’s sons wove their own colorful immigrant saga. Crammed below the decks of oak ships by the hundreds, they endured stink, retched food and fetid air for two months or more before greeting the sunlight of the New World.

 

And as we all know, a great many landed here. They came to work this land. They came to offer their trades and skills in a young city which hungered for them (not like home where many young men were seen as less desirable than English sheep). Their ranks included men of letters such as a former Paisley cleric named John Witherspoon who became president of the College of New Jersey. An Aberdonian named William Small tutored Thomas Jefferson at William and Mary College. And there was William Keith , 15th Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania. 

 

When revolution came, Scotsmen fought and died some for Britain, some for the Colonies. Nineteen of the fiftysix delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence were Scotsmen. As this new and unique nation grew, these sons of Scotland grew with it. Their families put down roots and left their names on the landscape Ardmore and Glenside. Montgomery and Radnor. To name just a few.

 

Scottish Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War. Among them Ulysses S. Grant, Winfield Scott, and Jeb Stuart. George McClellan and Stonewall Jackson were both Scotch Irish. 

 

Those who made the trek across the sea did not take opportunity for granted, and they seized it. Scottish industry and Scottish intellect have been powering this nation ever since. We drive across steel bridges built by a Scotsman born in Dunfermlin named Andrew Carnegie.

 

The Scottish born Alexander Winton built one of the first American automobiles in 1896, and broke the world speed record in 1900. David Dunbar Buick, another Scottish immigrant, founded Buick Motors in 1903. And of course, we drive these vehicles on “Macadam”, the road surface invented by John Loudon McAdam of Ayrshire. 

 

Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell was a Scotsman born in Edinburgh? If you have visited a National park, you can thank the great Scottish American conservationist, John Muir. And when you look at the night sky, you can feel proud that the first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, were both of Scottish descent.

 

In our schools, the works of Scottish Americans are considered canon Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville and William Faulkner. Even America’s beloved national personification, Uncle Sam is based on a Scotsman Samuel Wilson, who provided the army with beef and pork during the War of 1812.

 

So many household names. And yet, today t he number of Americans of Scottish descent is about 20 to 25 million. Only 8.3% of the total US population. Let that sink in for a moment. It seems to me that our collective contribution to America is greater than our numbers could possibly hint at. So….We know the legends. The themes are familiar. The players are well known to those of us who study history. Is it old hat? Perhaps. Does it bear repeating? Always. What does it all have to do with Tartan Day? Everything.

 

Despite our talk of clans and families, There is really only one single tartan that is all of Scotland, and America. It’s threads are our people survivors, explorers, warriors, leaders, craftsmen, artists and entrepreneurs. Each man a single thread, each accomplishment a single color. Woven together, they are not only brilliant, they are mighty.

 

You and I stand upon their shoulders. Future generations will judge us on whether or not we were worthy of the sacrifices and the gifts of our ancestors. What have you and I woven into the national tartan? Dignity? Charity? Wisdom?

 

I leave you with that question. Answering it for yourself will be the greatest source of Gaelic pride you will ever feel. I invite you to embrace the past. Harness the present. And build the future. It is the Scottish thing to do.

Kilt Up for Hogmanay!

By Eric M. December 24, 2015

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is the name of the Scottish New Year's celebration. And it is one heck of a party. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations of 1996-97 were recognised by the Guinness Book of Records at the world's largest New Year's party with about 400,000 people in attendance! In fact, New Year's Eve is usually only the start of Hogmanay festivities which last through the night until the morning of January 1st and often into January 2nd, which is a Scottish Bank Holiday.

 

So what is it exactly? Hogmanay is one part Celtic fire festival and one part Norse winter solstice festival. It has been celebrated in one form or another since ancient times. The Vikings, who ruled portions of Scotland and England during the 9th through 10th centuries, had imported their twelve-night-long winter holiday of Yule (the origins of the Twelve Days of Christmas, sometimes called the "Daft Days" in Scotland). This holiday was also celebrated by the Anglo-Saxons to the south. Hogmanay is the culmination of the twelve nights, and hence the big blow-out party. It became an even bigger deal after the establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which actually discouraged the celebration of Christmas Day (considered "too Papist"). In fact, Christmas Day was just a regular work day in Scotland until the 1950s.

 

FIRST-FOOTING:

Immediately after midnight begins the practice of "First-Footing". An ancient luck charm, first-footing involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbor. The first-foot theoretically sets the luck of the household for the coming year.

 

Traditionally, tall, dark (and kilted) men are preferred as the first-foot. Nowadays, the ceremonial visiting can go on well into the dawn hours, or even for days into the middle of January as friends pay visits to friends far and near. Symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) are presented to the hosts; each intended to bring different kinds of good luck. In return, the householder offers gifts of food and drink to the visitors, often from a quaich. Hogmanay parties generally involve singing, dancing, storytelling, strong drink, and eating of the traditional steak pie or stew.

 

AULD LANG SYNE:

Perhaps the most famous Hogmanay traditon is the singing of "Auld Lang Syne." The song was originally a poem written by Robert Burns, who based it on a few lines of a traditional song he heard from an "old man." As the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day, the singing begins. Singers form a circle, cross their arms and hold hands. In Scotland, this is done only during the final verse, but in other countries people tend to link up for the whole song.

 

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?
 
CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
 
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
 
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin' auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
 
We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin' auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
 
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak' a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS

Holiday Gifts for Pipers

By Lucas December 5, 2015

Buying a gift for a piper doesn’t have be difficult as the needs of the instrument and uniform are nearly endless!

 

Piping Accessories

 

If you are unfamiliar with the reeds that your piper uses, basic maintenance supplies make perfect stocking stuffers.  All pipers use plain and waxed hemp to keep the joints of their pipes secure and airtight, a few rolls of each will be plenty for the entire year! 

Other items like brushes, oil, and reed protectors are inexpensive and practical supplies that pipers will always need. 

 

Reed Protector Reed

 

Many pipe bands issue dress sporrans to their members for all performances.  This sends pipers searching for a less formal sporran to wear throughout the year.  A day or semi-dress sporran will be suitable for a variety of occasions and will last a lifetime.  We currently have a sale on all types of sporrans throughout the holiday season of 25% off!

Band mates and instructors are a great resource for specific gift suggestions, they will certainly narrow your search. We've also put together a full list of "Gift Suggestions for Pipers" here.

If you are still uncertain what to get your piper, a gift certificate is always a safe option!

We can also make a personal recommendation for you.  Call us at the shop (800) 368-8633 or email lucas@usakilts.com to get help from our resident bagpipe expert.

Posted in: Products

Veterans Day

By Eric M. November 3, 2015

Veterans Day is an official United States federal holiday observed annually on November 11, honoring people who have served in our Armed Forces. Our holiday's roots lie in Armistice Day. Now known as Remembrance Day in the UK, Armistice Day commemorated the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front; the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.

 

Most countries changed the name of the holiday just prior to or after World War II, to honor veterans of that and subsequent conflicts. The United States officially changed to 'All Veterans Day' (later shortened to 'Veterans Day') in 1954. Veterans Day should never be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day specifically commemorates men and women who gave their lives in service.

 

 

THE LAST KILTS IN BATTLE

 

The beginnings of this most important holiday coincide, for the most part, with the end of the use of kilts on the battle field.

 

During the Great War, many regiments of the Commonwealth forces wore the kilt not only as a dress or garrison uniform element, but also in the field. Among these units, the most well known were the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch tartan), Cameron Highlanders (Cameron tartan), Gordon Highlanders (Gordon tartan), the Seaforth Highlanders (McKenzie tartan), and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Of the Territorial Forces, a few individual battalions of certain regiments wore kilts such as the 6th Battalion and 9th Battalions of the Highland Light Infantry and the 9th Battalion (The Dandy Ninth) of the Royal Scots. In addition other Regiments contained kilted battalions.

The London Regiment contained the famous London Scottish, 14th Battalion, which wore a Hodden Grey kilt (see photo).

 

 Hodden Grey Kilt

 

The practicality of the kilt in modern war was, even then, a matter of controversy. Did its effect on morale out-weigh its seeming impracticality? Most kilted troops were issued canvas kilt covers; apron-like garments which protected the kilt from mud. An odd thing to do if the kilt itself was up to the task. (see the photo of our own Dan McMichael in his Canadian WWI uniform). Many soldiers suffered for their kilts. A common experience was that when the bottom hem became damp and then froze in cold weather, the edge of the kilt would cut into the backs of the wearer's knees, even drawing blood. Many units in Canada were initially issued kilts, but switched over to trousers before going to the front.

 

Mac in his WW1 uniform 

 

And yet one British officer, Lt/Col Norman MacLeod, specifically argued the opposite -- that kilts were better for a soldier's health, as well as easier to move in during combat. He felt that kilts prevented trench foot , provided better torso warmth (due to the thickness of the woolen layers worn very high on the body; the "military rise"), and helped a trooper stay dry in the trenches. He even thought it helped mitigate the effects of mustard gas, a skin inflammatory, by allowing air flow around the legs, dissipating the pooling gas. Finally, MacLeod pronounced, "With reference to morale, I believe that the association of the kilt with the great deeds of valour on the part of the Highland Regiments, inspires their members. I know of no inspiration to be got from trousers."

 

Indeed, kilts did seem to boost pride and in doing so, may have worked as a psychological weapon. Many pipe bands went kilted into the trenches. Most famously, the ferociousness of the Black Watch led to the Germans nicknaming them the "Ladies from Hell."

 

By the beginning of the Second World War, the kilt had lost its practical credibility. Highland regiments entered the conflict in kilts, but the garments were rapidly recognized as impractical for modern warfare. In the first year of the war, they were officially banned as combat dress. The kilt may have had its last major appearance during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940.

 

However, we should also note the famous D-Day episode of Lord Lovat, commander of 1 Special Service Brigade, who came ashore at Normandy in 1944 accompanied by his personal piper Bill Millin, who wore a kilt and played the pipes while German bullets whizzed around him.

 

 Bill Millin on D Day

 

KILTS IN SERVICE TODAY

 

Kilts are still worn with pride today by many units of the British, Canadian and Australian armies. They are largely relegated to honor guard duty and dress occasions, but their impact on the martial spirit is as powerful as ever. Naturally, many military units across the globe support pipe bands. And of course, many veterans wear the kilt on their own time as a mark of pride both in their heritage and their service. In the USA, all five branches of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard) have registered tartans.  Of those, the only one to be "officially approved" by a branch of the military service is the US Coast Gaurd tartan (the others have been adopted through wont and usage).

 

Castle Gaurd

 

Though it is not as common as in the UK, some specific military units also have their own tartans, such as the U.S. Army Rangers. Tartans have also been designed and registered to commemorate important military events, such as the Federal and Confederate Memorial tartans which honor the deeds of Civil War combatants.

 

This Veterans Day, kilt up and thank a vet.

 

 

Veterans, please take note: USA Kilts offers a standard 10% discount to all Vets (with valid military ID) on all 'non sale' items. Please let us know if you have questions about military highland wear or service tartans. We thank you for your service.

Posted in: History