Learn About Scottish American Heritage Month (And Ways To Celebrate)

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Scottish American Heritage Month occurs every year in April and is celebrated with events, educational resources, cultural celebrations, and more. It also serves as a time to honor the contributions of Scottish Americans throughout history, as well as the culture and peoples of Scotland. 

Celebrating Scottish-American Heritage Month presents a meaningful opportunity to connect, exchange ideas, and support the bond between Scottish and American cultures and the Scottish-American community. Below, we’ll explore some information and materials about Scotland and Scottish American history in celebration of Scottish American Heritage Month.

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Learn more about Scotland and Scottish ancestry

Scotland is a geographically unique country located on the island of Great Britain in the United Kingdom. Scotland has more than 790 offshore islands, 93 of which are inhabited. The country has a vast and diverse history, including Romans, Vikings, and famous monarchs. In 1320, Scotland sent the pope the famous Declaration of Arbroath, requesting that he recognize Scotland as independent.

Along with a unique and expansive history, the nation is also known for being a leader in the availability of familial history and ancestral information. Scottish records and documentation, such as birth, marriage, death certificates, wills, and Census records, date back to the 1500s. Much of this information is available online through the National Records of Scotland, which has helped thousands of people learn about their ancestry and genealogy. You can browse ScotlandsPeople, the national genealogical website, to view these public records. In addition to the online genealogical resources, visitors to Scotland can also trace their ancestry through organizations like Scotland’sPeople Centre, the National Library, and the Mitchell Library.

Early Scottish-American history

As one of the early immigrant groups to arrive in the United States, Scottish Americans have been critical to developing the culture of the nation. Regular Scot-Irish settling occurred in the 1680s, and rates of immigration began to rise in the 1720s following political unrest and societal transitions. At that time, Presbyterian Scots and others voyaged to the colonies to find religious freedom and a fresh start.

With their early habitation in the colonies, Scottish Americans influenced the developing culture. Even before larger populations of Scottish Americans began to arrive in the Americas, the first permanent English settlement was named Jamestown after the ruler of Scotland, King James VI. Many Scottish Americans joined the Revolutionary Army to fight against the British, who responded by prohibiting all immigration to the Americas. The Declaration of Independence even has ties to Scottish culture, as parts of the document were inspired by the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

Scottish influence on U.S. politics

According to the U.S. Census in 2020, 5.3 million Americans claimed Scottish ancestry, and approximately 3 million people were identified as having Scots-Irish ancestry.

Of the 45 presidents of the United States, 34 have some Scottish or Ulster-Scots heritage— that’s about 77% of U.S. presidents. George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama are just a few of the presidents of Scottish descent.

Tartan Day, a holiday celebrating the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath and all of Scottish heritage, is celebrated every year on April 6th. Tartan Day is also a tribute to the influence Scottish Americans have had on the development of the United States. 

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Honoring famous Scottish-American figures

Many of the historical figures students learn about in elementary and high school were Scottish Americans. For example, famous figures in American literature were Scottish, from Edgar Allen Poe to William Faulkner. Other literary figures cited significant influence from the “literary freedom” of the time in Scotland. John Muir, a writer known for his environmental activism and emphasis on nature’s preservation, was also Scottish-American. He is also popularly known as the “father of our national parks,” and he was one of the founders of the Sierra Club, a grassroots organization committed to preserving and restoring the natural world.

Alexander Graham Bell, known as the inventor of the telephone, was born in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll,” had ancestors from Aberdeenshire, and Johnny Cash was a descendant of peoples from Fife, a region in Scotland. Some bluegrass, folk, and country music elements can trace their origins back to music brought to the Appalachian Mountains by Scottish-Irish immigrants.

The first two humans on the moon were also Scottish Americans. Not only did Scottish American inventor James S. McDonnell play a role in designing the Gemini and Mercury spacecraft, but the first American in space (Alan Shepherd) and the first American to orbit the Earth (John Glenn) were also Scottish Americans. Then, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two people on the moon, cementing the contributions of Scottish American individuals in spaceflight.

How to celebrate Scottish American Heritage Month this year

Exploring the history of the culture and country can be an excellent way to celebrate this year, and there is a world of resources available for free online. From virtual museum tours to online activities, there are several ways you can learn about Scottish-American history through engaging, educational content.

Online activities

For example, you can read about Scottish tartans and history on the Scottish Tartan Museum website and even find your familial tartan by submitting your surname. You can also research your genealogy to discover your ancestral story using the Library of Congress database. Also, you can explore exciting stories of Scottish history through the extensive resources and research available on Electric Scotland.

Donate or volunteer

You can also choose to celebrate Scottish-American Heritage Month by supporting organizations dedicated to aiding Scottish and Scottish-American communities and growth. This has a list of Scottish-owned businesses, authors, and heritage organizations that you can support through donations or volunteer work.

Scottish Heritage U.S.A. (SHUSA) is another organization you can donate to this month. Focused on preserving the bonds between Scotland and North America, SHUSA has been working since 1965 to spread knowledge, respect, and connection between Scottish, Scottish American, and North American citizens to preserve artifacts, historic sites, and art from the cultures. Furthermore, the American-Scottish Foundation offers regular news, events, projects, and more, all focusing on the culture of Scotland and Scottish Americans. 

Festivals and events

You may also consider going to Scottish or Scottish-American festivals and events this month. Such events often focus on remembering and celebrating Scottish traditions and customs, such as making and wearing of kilts, participating in Ceilidh customs and dances, preparing and having traditional Scottish meals such as Haggis or clootie dumplings, participating in the caber toss (the tossing of a 5-meter-long log), and other traditional highland games. One such festival is the Scottish Fest, held each year in Orange County, California. Another is the North Alabama Scottish Festival and Highland Games. A full list of Scottish festivals by state can be found at www.transceltic.com/celtic-festivals-usa.

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Mental health advocacy

Another way to celebrate Scottish American Heritage Month is by supporting mental health in Scottish American communities. Mental health challenges can affect anyone, regardless of their heritage or background, and open conversations can be an essential tool for improving mental health and empowering others to seek treatment. In addition, seeking treatment for your own mental health challenges or personal growth goals can be a powerful decision that can inspire others from diverse backgrounds.

Seek support with online therapy

Depending on your specific mental health challenge, you may experience certain barriers to traditional in-person therapy. For example, common symptoms like fatigue and social withdrawal can make leaving the house for a therapy session challenging. In these cases, online therapy may offer a better alternative. With online therapy, you can connect with a therapist via audio, video, live chat, or a combination of these modalities. Scheduling may be easier to manage as well since appointments are sometimes available outside of normal business hours.

Mental health treatment has become much more available with online counseling, which research shows to be just as effective as in-person therapy for various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and more. If you are experiencing mental health challenges or want to work toward achieving your career or life goals, online therapy may be a viable option for you.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Takeaway

Scottish American Heritage Month offers an opportunity to celebrate the rich culture and history of Scottish and Scottish-American individuals. In addition to celebrating through Scottish traditions and festivals, you might enjoy doing some research on Scottish American history and even your own genealogy. 

This month can also serve to contribute to Scottish-American communities and raise awareness of concerns facing your community, including mental health needs. Individual experiences of mental health conditions often depend on cultural differences, familial relationships, and more. Whether or not you identify with Scottish American ancestry and culture, this month can be a great time to explore and better understand your mental health with the help of a licensed therapist, whether in person or line. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience treating any concerns you may be facing. Take the first step toward getting support and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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