THE Scottish poet and writer, Jackie Kay, gracefully coats her motivating poem, “Threshold,” with an aspirational goal that appeals to the better angles of Scotland and Scots. The last lines read: “Welcome. C’mon ben the living room. Come join our brilliant gathering.” As we celebrate St. Andrew’s Day around the world, I see Scotland as a “brilliant gathering” brimming with welcoming people of varied talents and backgrounds, individuals and organisations striving to make a difference in communities at home and around the globe. Of the many traits, contributions, innovations, culture, and history we might celebrate, I spotlight the attribute of service and charity that defines the Scottish character.

St. Andrew’s Day has an unexpected origin. One would think because St. Andrew has been the patron saint of Scotland since 1320, that St. Andrew’s Day began in Scotland. In reality, it had its genesis in 18th Century North America. Scottish immigrants to South Carolina were motivated to connect with their homeland, and serve as emissaries for the values of Scotland. They formed the St. Andrew’s Society of Charleston in 1729. The founding charter of the society states that it was founded to advance the “public good.” This spirit fed into the birth St. Andrew’s Day.

After South Carolina, another society was formed by Scots in New York. The St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York is the oldest charity registered in New York. The mission was social, but primarily to relieve the poor. That charitable mission continues today. In nearby New Jersey, The Learned Kindred of Currie has for years been engaged in supporting food banks and helping those facing hardships.

In Illinois, Chicago Scots is one of the world’s largest Scottish cultural organisations and is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Their primary charity is Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care. The campus accommodates two homes: the original Scottish Home and the MacLean House memory care residence. Through a range of services, the compassionate work and professional care is enhancing the lives of seniors so they may live with dignity.

I recently asked the President of the St. Andrew’s Society of San Francisco, Francesca McCrossan, about her views on the importance of charity in the mission. Her passionate views about ensuring their local charitable efforts remain central were inspiring.

There are approximately 1000 Scottish associations and clubs in America, each having some feature of community service and outreach to those bearing hardships. These charitable efforts stem from a Scottish people and nation that deeply believes in the worth and health of all souls, comforting those in need, promoting thought, safeguarding human dignity, honouring the past, upholding the arts, and protecting the environment.

In Scotland there are currently 25,155 charities, ranging from small local entities to large international organisations. They are engaged in addressing such issue as homelessness, poverty, elderly and child care, youth development and counseling, education, skills training, international humanitarian activities, animal welfare, environmental stewardship, historic preservation, and refugee resettlement. Additionally, many for profit businesses in Scotland are built on a model of how their product or service positively impact people’s lives. I have also seen Scottish networks and associations assembling innovative events and podcasts that are designed to be informative, but also care for others who may be struggling in difficult times.

The Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson captured the essence of Scottish charitable giving when he wrote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” The sheer size of how many people in Scotland are reflecting this sentiment and are either supporting, volunteering or employed by charitable endeavors is remarkable. If we add in those Scots around the world who are planting seeds in their communities, we see a vast forest of flowers of charity, inspiration, and kindness that have blossomed around all corners of the globe.

There are many ways to celebrate St. Andrew’s Day and Scotland on its National Day. As we observe all we love about Scotland and the Scottish people, whether you are Scottish or not, consider taking your place in a parade of doing something quietly kind – simply take a moment to express appreciation for a person who may be lonely, draw near to those you hold dear, embrace an anxious friend and offer encouraging words, make an on-line donation to a charity. I have no doubt countless Scots and friends of Scotland will do just that and more today and tomorrow. Whatever the kind act may be, these gestures will play a part in furthering the charitable trait which makes Scotland the compassionate nation and “brilliant gathering” of people and organisations it is around the world. Happy St. Andrew’s Day!

Ian Houston has spent his career in Washington, DC as an international non-profit leader, a policy advocate for diplomatic engagement and global poverty alleviation, and intercultural dialogue. He formerly worked in the U.S. Congress on policy staff. He currently serves as a consultant and as the Ambassador for the Scottish Business Network (SBN) in Washington, DC. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of SBN.