CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It was Sunday morning, and the parishioners at Kanawha United Presbyterian Church in Charleston were listening to bagpipe music. Knees bobbed under tartan kilts, toes under tartan pants and dresses.
Once a year the congregation does this: they don their best plaid and go to church for a blessing. Some wear kilts or sashes in the print that signifies their family's clan back in Scotland, others rummage through the closet for whatever they have that best fits the mood.
It's called the 'kirkin o' the tartan' - 'kirkin' for blessing, 'tartan' for that plaid fabric.
"We do it to respect our heritage, to remind us of where we come from and where we've been," said Ron Neal, director of music at the church.
The Presbyterian Church is closely tied to Scotland, where it originated. The 'kirkin o' the tartan' ceremony is unique to Scots in America but is rooted in 18th century Scottish history. When English conquerors banned the wearing of tartan in the 1700s, Scots took to keeping swatches of the fabric under their clothing. When, in church, the priest gave a blessing, they touched those tartans in the name of patriotism and their faith.
The tradition is younger here - tartans probably started being blessed in American churches sometime in the 1940s. Kanawha United Presbyterian started holding its annual service in 2006.
The parish is diverse: many of its members are Scottish, but there are also congregants with backgrounds in France and the Philippines, Ireland and even England (the nation of tartan oppressors in the story of tradition's origin).
But the Rev. Patterson Lyles said that has little bearing on the Scottish tradition's place in the church. In fact, he himself doesn't come from a Scottish background.
"Or rather, I'm sure it could be mixed in there somehow, but it's something I've never been aware of," he said.