The Complete Guide To St Andrew's Day
Scotland is a country steeped in history that dates back to prehistoric times. Myths, legends and stories of creatures have passed down generations, still thriving today. One such legend is that of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland and also Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and more!
Singers, fishmongers, maidens and women that wish to be mothers can also call him their patron saint, and the celebration of him comes in the form of a national festival and day of feasting. This dates back hundreds of years, and marks the start of advent.
In recent years, St Andrews Day has even been made a national holiday, on which hundreds of events take place. There is no greater time to visit Scotland than this!
Although the origin of St Andrews Day is clouded with mystery, it is widely thought to have stemmed from the reign of Malcolm III (1034-1093). The Saint himself was believed to have been a fisherman, and one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, in fact he was the first disciple.
In Greece he was crucified by Roman Governor Aegeas in 60 AD, and soon became a worldwide martyr, in both his homeland of Bethsaida, in Galilee (now a part of Israel), to the highlands of Scotland. It is widely understood that he was born between 5AD and 10AD, before being crucified on a saltire, or an ‘X-shaped’ cross that now makes up the key feature on Scotland’s flag.
Ancient curios of Saint Andrew were brought to a Scottish settlement, now the town of St Andrews, by the Pictish King Oengus I in the eighth century. These formed part of the archaic monastery where the university now lies. The initial link between the saint and Scotland stemmed from here, and flourished after a battle against English warriors from Northumberland.
The battle was roughly 20 miles East of Edinburgh, and Scottish warriors were densely outnumbered by the English. In a plea of desperation Oengus II prayed to Saint Andrew on the eve of the conflict, claiming he would make him patron saint of Scotland should they be awarded victory in this battle. When the day came the Scottish warriors were triumphant, having been encouraged by the saltire shaped cloud in the sky.
Inspired by this divine intervention, the Scottish made this their official flag in 1385 - with Saint Andrew’s cross in the centre.
Although from 1000 AD he was revered in Scotland, Saint Andrew only became the official patron saint in 1320 after the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath - the declaration of Scottish independence.
Although, Scottish mythology claims his influence comes from even further back in time. A fitting title, since Patron Saints are awarded such status in return for special protection and a role as guardians over things.
Whether that be a country, a group of individuals or even an activity. The town of St Andrews became a popular pilgrimage site following the appointment of Saint Andrew as a patron saint. This stretched right up until the 16th century. Pilgrims travelled from worldwide to see preserved remains of the saint.
A tooth, a kneecap, an arm and even a finger bone were supposedly kept here. Other relics were sadly destroyed in the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century. St Andrews Day is widely believed to be a day of great luck for the Scottish, in medieval times they moved their ritual slaughter of animals to this date.
This was in the belief that the other animals were more likely stay alive to provide food, clothes and other produce throughout winter if some were sacrificed on this day.
The day of his crucifixion, supposedly the 30th of November, has since been named St Andrews Day. Surprisingly, the tradition of celebrating on this day was not technically started in Scotland! Instead it was started by a group of expatriates residing in the USA, but wishing to reconnect with their Scottish roots.
In South Carolina in 1729, several affluent immigrants from Scotland created the ‘St Andrew’s Society of Charleston’. This is now the oldest Scottish society of its kind, becoming well known through their work with orphans, widows and the needy in the surrounding area. With this in mind, in 1756 a group was founded in New York called ‘The St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York’.
Their goal was to help those in need, whether from ill health, or little money, making them now the oldest registered charity in New York state. Other groups took inspiration from these societies, and began to pop up all over the world, spreading the message of St Andrews Day and how it should be celebrated each year on the last day of November.
If this falls on a weekend, then the following Monday is instead named St Andrews Day. It is a historical bank holiday, on which students at the University of St Andrews are traditionally given a day off from their studies to enjoy the festivities.
For many it is the sign of the approaching Winter festival season, with advent and Christmas just on the horizon. Around the country Scottish culture is celebrated with food, drinks, music and dancing; shared only on two other occasions - Burns Night and Hogmanay.
Scotland’s First Minister and the British Prime Minister both acknowledge the event with St Andrews Day messages that are widely viewed and accessible to all. Scotland has always been a country that revels in its heritage. enjoys tradition and has a sense of strong patriotism.
St Andrews Day gives the Scottish an opportunity to celebrate all things Scottish, even modern movements. Scientific discoveries, and innovative, forward thinking are qualities that define modern Scotland, something that should definitely be celebrated.
St Andrews societies populate all corners of the globe, each celebrating the occasion in their own countries, but festivities are biggest of all in Scotland. Edinburgh, Dundee, St Andrews and other areas of the country all celebrate St Andrews Day uniquely. A Saltire Festival is held in East Lothian, a celebration of native patriotism.
Traditional food and drinks line stalls around the festival, where live music is enjoyed by visitors. Also on offer are historical experiences, where individuals can get a real taste of medieval life, who Saint Andrew was and how he became the country’s patron saint.
In Edinburgh, Winter festivities are beginning to warm up, with local markets lining the streets that boast hearty street food, sweet treats and winter crafts. Local storytellers catch the attention of children and passers-by with tales of Saint Andrew, along with classical poems and songs. Dundee also houses a festival - The St Andrews Day Fusion Festival.
This is nationally adored for its ability to connect sparse Scottish communities, through the fusion of music and dance from all corners of the country.
St Andrews Day is most widely celebrated in the town of St Andrews (shocking!), which was awarded this name due to its claim to be the final resting place of Saint Andrew. The town boasts an array of activities which are on offer to visitors throughout the month of November. Savour St Andrews Festival of Food and Drink runs from the first day of the month until the annual St Andrews Day Feast on the 30th of November.
Here local businesses offer up sweet treats and tasty snacks in celebration of Scottish culture. A buildup of excitement in the town is marked annually on the 25th of November, when the City of St Andrews Pipe Band parades down South Street for 6:30 pm. Such spirit carries through to the following day with an Open Air Street Party on Market Street culminating with the switching on of the festive lights.
This takes place at 6 pm and boasts an incredible atmosphere, the World’s Largest St Andrews Day Ceilidh, and the Kilrymont Ceilidh Band! Ceilidh is pronounced kay-lee, and is a type of party unique to Scotland, that is defined through iconic Scottish country dancing and the eating of traditional food. Such traditional food often includes cullen skink, a type of either fish or lamb soup!
In a final open arm gesture to share Scottish heritage, on St Andrews Day itself the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, Castle and Cathedral take part in an open door event. Meaning, anyone is free to wander in and learn about the legacy of Saint Andrew - all for free!
More recently the day has grown in meaning to the Scots, and stands strong as one of three major dates during the winter period. People now gather together to celebrate St Andrews Day and experience good times.
Many believe that the spirit of Saint Andrew is very much still alive today, since Scotland is widely known for its open arms and warm spirits. Let the legacy of Saint Andrew, and the festivities of the day bring you to Scotland.