Bring out your plaid

‘Kirkin O’ the Tartan’ a Scottish tradition from the 18th century
By: By Leah Rosasco
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Kirkin O’ the Tartan
What: Traditional Scottish blessing of family
When: 10 a.m. today         
Where: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 124 Orange Way, Auburn                 
Cost: Free
Information: Contact St. Luke’s at 885-2316

Local residents of Scottish descent will celebrate their family plaid at a once-yearly blessing ceremony today.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Auburn will conduct a “Kirkin O’ the Tartan,” a traditional blessing of Celtic clans from the Scottish Highlands. The term comes from the Scottish word “Kirk,” which means church, and a “Tartan” is the plaid-patterned fabric that Scottish clans used to distinguish themselves from other clans.
The tradition of blessing the tartan is said to have begun in 1746, when the Scottish were prohibited by King Edward the First and the Church of England from displaying their family tartan, or plaid. In order to continue to bless their families, the Scottish would secretly touch a piece of the cloth concealed in their clothing during church services.
Although tartan blessings of old were done secretly, modern-day Kirkin O’ the Tartan ceremonies include abundant displays of the plaid cloth.
Sandra MacGregor, a founding member of the Auburn-based Beinn Celts Club, said today’s blessing is open to the public and people are encouraged to bring items displaying their family tartan to the ceremony.
“It can be a scarf, a blanket, whatever they have,” MacGregor said. “Sometimes people also have something that displays their clan crest.”
According to MacGregor, the Kirkin O’ the Tartan ceremony is a uniquely Scottish celebration that honors the heritage.
 “A lot of people in this area have Scottish backgrounds so it’s something they want to celebrate,” MacGregor said.
John Gregg, 73, of Lincoln, said he began exploring his family history back in the late 1970s, when one of his sons asked about their family’s ancestry.
“He had seen ‘Roots’ on television and he wanted to know where we came from and I couldn’t really tell him very much,” Gregg said.
Gregg found that his family came from Scotland, and he said he was able to determine that his ancestors belonged to Clan MacGregor. Although he found several different spellings of the name “MacGregor,” Gregg said his surname is a shortened version of his clan name.
“There were a lot of people who had to change their name because the English couldn’t pronounce them,” Gregg said. “Also, there was a time when just having the name ‘MacGregor’ could get you hung.”
Gregg said he appreciates the opportunity to embrace his Scottish heritage at the annual Kirkin O’ the Tartan ceremony.
“It’s nice to learn about your own history and then celebrate it,” Gregg said. “I’ll be wearing one of my kilts.”
Father Daniel Williamson, Priest in Charge, will perform the ceremony at St. Luke’s. Although the Kirkin O’ the Tartan is a tradition of the Episcopal Church, Father Williamson, who is of Scottish descent, said he had not offered a Kirkin O’ the Tartan until two years ago when he came to St. Luke’s, where the blessing has been performed for 15 years.
“I was delighted to do it,” Father Williamson said. “It gives me a bit of personal pride and it is a way to do something for the community.”
According to Father Williamson, today’s service will include the regular Eucharist and the blessing of the tartan will take place after the sermon.
“You wouldn’t know the service was any different except for a bunch of wild Scots running around,” Father Williamson joked.
Father Williamson, a self-proclaimed history buff, said he finds it interesting that the Kirkin O’ the Tartan is now a tradition of the Episcopal Church, which is a branch of the Church of England, the very church that outlawed the wearing of tartan hundreds of years ago.
“I think it’s a twist that Edward the First would not find particularly funny,” Father Williamson said.