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What Is the Kirkin O' the Tartan?

From the Highlands of Scotland, from the shores of Loch Lomond, from East March, from Roanoke, Virginia.

After a hiatus in 2020, the Kirkin o' the Tartan at Colonial Presbyterian Church is officially back on the schedule! Now in its 15th year, the Kirkin is a much-anticipated annual celebration of Scottish heritage in the Southwest Virginia region.

But what is the Kirkin o' the Tartan?

"The purpose is to gather together and celebrate our Scottish heritage," says Brent Williams, minister at Colonial Presbyterian. "The word 'kirkin' means 'blessing' and the tartans represent the different clans, or families. It's a ceremony asking God to bless the gift we have of family."

The first Kirkin o' the Tartan was held in the Washington National Cathedral in 1941 to raise funds for the British war effort in World War II. A celebration of Scottish heritage and perseverance, the ceremony honors the struggle of Scottish ancestors who faced personal and religious persecution following the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Today, the Kirkin o' the Tartan is celebrated annually in various places across the United States and Canada.

This year's event in Roanoke will feature music by the Appalachian Piping Academy, Kinnfolk, and Cat & Banjo; a service by minister Brent Williams; light refreshments of shortbread and tea; and the annual Calling of the Clans.

"Really, the Calling of the Clans is just the different families announcing their presence at the gathering," explains Williams. "It's the different folks represented stepping forward and proclaiming, 'We are here!' It's an embracing not only of our heritage, but of the wider Scottish family around the globe."

Musical selections will include traditional Scottish tunes, songs written by renowned Scottish poet Robert Burns, and a selection of bagpipe tunes performed by the Appalachian Piping Academy. One pipe tune, "The Flowers of the Forest," holds particular significance at the Kirkin o' the Tartan.

"The tunes comes from the Scottish defeat at Flodden in 1513," Williams explains. "King James IV was killed, along with so many others. They say the defeat struck every household in Scotland. Those that fell in battle were known as the flowers of the forest. And so we continue to honor our loved ones with the piper's lament, 'Flowers of the Forest,' as we read off the names of those we've lost in the past year."

The festivities will take place at 2pm on Sunday, November 21 at Colonial Presbyterian Church pavilion. You'll be able to see the pavilion from the parking lot, but if you feel lost, just watch for kilts and follow the bagpipe music.

"If you've got Scottish lineage, the pipes are in your blood and the heritage is there," says Williams. "It's part of you at the very depths of your spirit. If you don't have that, but you want to enjoy a cultural experience alongside neighbors, you'll find that here.

But," he adds with a laugh, "if you don't like bagpipes, you probably shouldn't come."

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