Heritage and Culture

St Andrews Day

By Sophie

At this time of year, in Scotland, it's one large celebration. Us Scots don't pass up the chance for a party, and between the Christmas excitement, we also find time to celebrate St Andrews Day. Known as Scotland's national day, we hold a number of celebrations here, in the homeland. However it wasn't long before the rest of the world caught on, and St Andrew's day has become a worldwide celebration.

Who was Saint Andrew?

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and is celebrated annually, on the 30th November. This day sees Scots, around the world, celebrate Scottish culture, food and dance. Saint Andrew was believed to be a fisherman, who brought the first foreigners to meet Jesus. He was also known for shaming a large crowd of people into sharing their food with others beside them. He, along with his brother Simon Peter, became disciples of Jesus Christ. He was later crucified by the Romans on an X-shaped cross at Patras in Greece.

Legend has it that a Greek monk, in a vision, was ordered to take a few relics of Andrew to the 'ends of the earth' for safe keeping. He set off on a sea journey and eventually came ashore on the coast of Fife. This settlement is now known as the modern town of St Andrews.

How did Saint Andrew's Day come to exist?

As Scotland slowly became a nation, they needed a national symbol to motivate the country. Having St Andrew as the country's Patron gave them several advantages, as St Andrew was the brother of Saint Peter, who was the founder of the church. This meant the Scots were able to appeal to the pope in 1320, for protection against the attempts of English kings, to conquer the Scots. It was tradition that Scots would claim they were descended from the Scythians, who lived on the shores of the Black Sea, in what is now Romania and Bulgaria and were converted by St Andrew.

Saint Andrew was an inspired choice of patron for Scotland. The early Picts and Scots modeled themselves on St Andrew and on one of his strong supporters, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Today you can see Constantine's statue in York, where he visited his father, whilst trying to force the Picts to go back north.

Constantine was a pagan, who worshiped the Roman sun god, Sol. However he later became Christian and went on to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. His conversion to Christianity began near Rome, in 312AD when, on the night of a battle against a rival emperor, he saw the symbol X P in the sunset. This is Greek for the first two letters of 'Christ'. He then fell asleep and in his dream he was promised victory. Constantine instructed his troops to hold the Christian cross at the front of the army, and to his delight, they won the battle.

Around 500 years later, King Angus of the Picts had a similar experience. He was facing a larger army of Saxons at Athelstaneford, in what is now known as East Lothian in Scotland. He was suddenly overwhelmed by a dazzling light in the sky, the night before the battle. He then dreamt that he would see a cross in the sky and in its name, he would conquer his enemies. The next morning, King Angus looked into the sky and saw the Saltire cross. This filled him and his men with a great confidence and they were victorious in their battle. From this time, Saint Andrew and his Saltire Cross were adopted as the national symbols for an emerging Scotland.

The Saltire Cross became the heraldic arms that every Scot is entitled to fly and wear. Its co,our, however was not white at first. Originally the cross was silver in colour, however in the Acts of Parliament of King Robert II, in 1385, every Scottish soldier was ordered to wear a white Saltire. If the uniform was white, the cross was to be stitched onto a black background.

Both William Wallace and King Robert appealed to Saint Andrew to guide them in times of national emergency. The Saltire was flown on Scottish ships, used as the logo of the Scottish banks, on Scottish coins and seals, and displayed at the funerals of Scottish Kings and Queens. At the Union of the Crowns in 1603, London was treated to the show of Saint Andrew and Saint George on horseback, shaking hands in friendship. When King George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822 he was presented with a Saltire Cross made of pearls on velvet, within a circle of gold.

Saint Andrew and his relics, at St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh, provide Scots with a special link to Amalfi in Italy and Patras in Greece, where two cathedrals named after the saint also hold his relics. There are many Saint Andrew societies worldwide, which were originally set up as self-help organisations for Scots who had fallen on hard times. These societies now form a larger betwork of Scots who are all united under the Saltire Cross of Saint Andrew. They give Scotland a European and worldwide dimension.

St Andrews Day today

Saint Andrews Day is an opportunity for the Scots to have a party with Scottish dancing, singing, storytelling, bagpipes and, of course, a feast featuring haggis and Whisky. With more than 40 million people around the world claiming Scottish ancestry, that's a lot of celebration. If you're having your own Saint Andrews Day celebration why not take a look at our Traditional Scottish recipes, coming this week, for inspiration.