This coming weekend will be one of the highlights of the year in Scotland. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and his feast day is celebrated on 30 November. St. Andrew’s Day has over the last two or three decades become an ever more popular day of celebration. When I was a young boy there was not much in the way of official recognition. Everyone knew that St. Andrew was our patron saint, but no great fuss was made and 30 November was just like any other day. It was not a public holiday.
That has all changed and the growing recognition of St. Andrew’s Day as Scotland’s Day has in many ways mirrored the growing self- awareness of Scots. This has led of course to the re-establishment of our own Parliament. And in 2006 the Scottish Parliament designated St. Andrew’s Day as an official bank holiday.
But what has Saint Andrew to do with Scotland? Andrew of course was the brother of Peter and one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. According to writer Michael T R B Turnbull, “Andrew was an agile and hardy Galilean fisherman whose name means ‘Strong’ and who also had good social skills. He brought the first foreigners to meet Jesus and shamed a large crowd of people into sharing their food with the people beside them. Today we might describe him as the Patron Saint of Social Networking!” Good guy to have as your patron saint! How did he get to Scotland though? Well, he didn’t actually get to Scotland, but his relics, or at least some of them, are supposed to have ended up, sometime in the 8th century, at what is now the town of St. Andrews, so named in honour of the saint. There on 5 July 1318 Scotland’s largest cathedral was consecrated in a ceremony before King Robert the Bruce. Alas the cathedral is now a picturesque ruin.
The other legend that associates the saint with Scotland is more military and political in origin. In 832 before one of the many battles between the Scots and their Pictish allies and the invading Saxons, King Angus McFergus had a dream in which Saint Andrew appeared promising victory. On the morning of the battle a great white X shaped cross appeared in the sky and the Scots and Picts took this as a sign of divine support. They went on to win a bloody victory and from that time Saint Andrew and his Saltire Cross were adopted as the national symbols for an emerging Scotland.
Enough of history - what about the celebrations? This year St. Andrew’s Day falls on a Monday and this means that many places have decided to devote the whole weekend to activities and events. There are the usual ceilidhs, family fun activities, concerts of traditional and not so traditional music, street theatre and much else. This weekend will also be the start of the pre-Christmas celebrations and in many places this will be combined with celebrating St. Andrew’s Day. In Dundee for example there is to be a Winter Lights Night. This is advertised as “a visual feast set to mix stunning audiovisual displays and music against a backdrop of street art, performances and storytelling, culminating in a fireworks display.” If you want to get an idea of what is on offer throughout Scotland you can access the official St. Andrew’s Day online guide here.
The town of St. Andrews is one of the places to put on a weekend long programme of events and activities. This includes lighting up the medieval walls of the town with installations themed to reflect different aspects of Scotland’s heritage. There will even be a power kiting festival on the West Sands. On the Monday many famous buildings will be open for free, including the R&A clubhouse. We will certainly be there. For more info about events in St. Andrews their festival brochure can be found here.
What about Scots in the rest of the world? Scots of course have long been a migrant people and have settled in most parts of the world. With them they took their traditions and customs. In places where there was a significant Scottish presence Scottish societies were often started in order to maintain these traditions and to provide help for their fellow countrymen. The world’s first Society of Saint Andrew was formed in Charleston, South Carolina on 30 November 1729. Twenty years later, the Saint Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia was started by 25 Scottish residents to give relief to the poor and the distressed. Two signatories of the Declaration of Independence — James Wilson (a graduate of St Andrews University) and John Witherspoon DD, a native of Paisley and president of Princeton College — were founder members. St. Andrew societies or Caledonian societies can be found all over the world. Some of them will mark the day. For example there is to be a St. Andrew’s Day Banquet and Ball on 28 November, held by the Saint Andrew’s Society of San Francisco. While the New York Caledonian Club is to celebrate St. Andrew’s Day on the 30th. Their website doesn’t give any clue as to what they will actually do. There will also be St. Andrew's Day Balls in Toronto and Paris. Most societies, however, do not seem to celebrate St. Andrews Day in any way. In this they are a bit like we were in Scotland 30 or so years ago. Perhaps in the decades to come Scots and the descendants of Scots throughout the world will use St. Andrew’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate Scotland’s culture and traditions.
Saint Andrew of course is not just the patron saint of Scotland. We are happy that many other countries honour Saint Andrew. He is it seems the patron saint of the Ukraine, Russia, Romania and Greece. He is also the patron saint of the town of Amalfi in Italy, where there is a beautiful cathedral dedicated to the saint. We have been fortunate enough to have visited this lovely town and its cathedral. Andrew was also apparently the patron saint of the former kingdom of Prussia. Not sure to what extent St. Andrew’s Day is celebrated in any of these countries or places.
Anyway, to all Scots or would be Scots all over the world and to all people who share Saint Andrew as their patron saint a happy St. Andrew’s Day to one and all.