Feeling Clannish

By Veronica

I sat in church, my four-year-old in my lap. She has a hard time sitting still, but today she was rapt, focused on the processional that wove its way through the church. Families carried plaid flags around the sanctuary before planting them into a stand on the dais. A Caledonian band marched behind them, bagpipes playing.

“That was a good parade,” my daughter whispered after it was over.

Today was the Kirking of the Tartans. It is an annual celebration in our congregation on the last Sunday in October. The Kirking of the Tartans occurs in various Presbyterian churches throughout the US. If you ask someone who believes in it, it is the reenactment of a ceremony preserving Scottish clan identity originating after the Battle of Culloden, when the English outlawed the speaking of Scots Gaelic and the wearing of the plaid patterns traditional to each clan. If you ask anyone else, it is a rather bogus invention of an American trying to drum up support for involvement in the second world war.

I have always thought the Kirking of the Tartans rather silly. Our congregation, after all, is hardly Scottish anymore. A brief glance around the sanctuary will tell you that our ethnic heritages span the globe. Scotland has been important in our Presbyterian history, but no more so than France or the Netherlands or Korea, and no one has yet suggested we choose a Sunday for a Dutch wooden shoe festival.

Part of the Kirking of the Tartans is the reading of the names of the Highland clans. In the legendary story, each member of that clan would stand silently and touch their hidden bit of tartan, receiving a blessing. Although our ethnic heritage is largely Scottish, my husband and I have never stood for this part. But today my husband was out soothing the baby, and my four-year-old was sitting next to me, so when the reader stood at the pulpit and read the list of clan names, I told my daughter she could stand when she heard the family name of her grandmother.

And she did. And in the middle of this rather silly, historically inaccurate ceremony, I got a little choked up. Not because I was sad that a couple hundred years ago my ancestors lost liberties; my family moved here in 1820. We are free to speak all the Scots Gaelic we want, but it turns out English is just fine for us, thank you.

I got choked up because even if the ceremony is not real, the family is. As my little girl stood there, I seemed to see the long line of mothers who came before her. Scottish and Welsh and German and Dutch mothers whose hope and love still continue in my small girl. Mothers even farther back, from clans and tribes we have no name for, who suckled their babies and prayed for their health and hoped for grandchildren someday. This long line of mothers, etched into her DNA, making her who she is. This host of prayers, ascending heavenward, echoing back to us.

I do not know those mothers. I never can. But I know our girl. And while not every mother is a good mother, so I can’t say for sure that they would delight in this young grand-daughter, I can say with certainty that they should. She is the fruition of all those hopes and prayers, both mine and theirs, and I feel the gratitude of it down into my bones.

I don’t think much of bringing bits of cloth to church for blessing. But I wrapped my arms around my standing girl in church today and I was, indeed, blessed.

You can find Veronica tartan-less and happily blogging in English at Toddled Dredge.

7 Responses to Feeling Clannish
  1. […] a new post up at 5 Minutes for Parenting; if you’ve ever wondered about my ethnic background, this one will give you the scoop.  And I forgot to link to my post last week, where I discussed the trials and tribulations of […]

  2. Dawn
    October 28, 2008 | 11:53 am

    Another example of why this website is my very favorite.

  3. Leann
    October 28, 2008 | 11:57 am

    Oh, Veronica, this was a lovely post! I am also of Scottish decent. I would hope that I am making my grandmothers proud.

  4. Courtney
    October 28, 2008 | 12:40 pm

    This is so very emotional and moving. Family whether we know them or not is what makes us what we are. Their was always someone who came before us to shape the woprld in which we live in. It is an amazing thing!

  5. poppy fields
    October 28, 2008 | 5:00 pm

    When I look at my daughters, I sometimes think of their ancestors and the merging of northwestern and southeastern Europe that has formed these two beautiful children.

    Slightly off topic… I want to read the last two Outlander books, but haven’t got a hold of them yet.

  6. Patois
    October 29, 2008 | 10:45 am

    Seeing our ancestors — recent and long ago — march forth in our children really is something to choke up about.

  7. Kelly
    October 30, 2008 | 2:21 pm

    I really loved this post, Veronica. (Who knew the Kirking of the Tartans was a Presbyterian activity?)

    But I must confess I rarely have moments like this. I know so little about my family background, and my husband knows absolutely nothing. I’m like ship without an anchor in that sense. It’s hard for me to imagine a heritage like this.

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