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St Andrews Day: What is it and how can you celebrate?

The 30th November marks St Andrew’s Day, a celebration of the patron Saint of Scotland. But who is Scotland’s patron Saint and how do people celebrate the day across the country, including in St Andrews itself?

Who is St Andrew?

Although the patron Saint of Scotland, Saint Andrew is widely believed to have been born in ‘Bethsaida’, a village on the Sea of Galilee, now part of Israel. According to religious scripture, Andrew led a life as a fisherman until becoming one of Jesus’ disciples, alongside his brother Peter, and travelling afar to spread the teachings of Christ. Andrew, like Jesus, died a martyr after being crucified in 60AD on an ‘X’ shaped cross, rather than a ‘T’ shaped cross, known as the ‘saltire’. In 1320, St Andrews officially became the patron saint of Scotland, coinciding with the country’s independence and the signing of Arbroath, as his story was used to define many aspects of Scottish culture, including the use of the saltire on the Scottish flag, commonly known as the St Andrews’s Cross. The Saint’s links to Scotland are in fact unclear and limited, however, one legend states that the Pictish King Oengus I built a monastery in Fife after the relics of the Saint were brought to the town in the 8th century. The town, previously known as Kinrymont, was later renamed St Andrews. The story goes on to the king’s descendant, who prayed to Saint Andrew for victory against the English in battle in return for making Andrew the patron Saint of Scotland. The Scots were indeed victorious and thus Andrew became their patron Saint.  

Traditional celebrations

St Andrews Day, now an official Scottish Bank Holiday, is the feast day of Andrew the Apostle, and is today perceived as a celebration of Scottish culture, filled with food, drink, dancing and music. Bizarrely, the tradition of St Andrews Day began in South Carolina in 1729 by a group of wealthy immigrant Scots and became so popular that word of the celebration spread back to their homeland. Traditions for St Andrews day vary regionally, but some traditions remain popular throughout the country, such as the beloved Scottish Ceilidh, street parties and story telling. One of the key elements of the day is the food and drinks traditionally served on the day. Dishes include Cullen skink, a soup dish consisting of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions, haggis, and clootie dumplings (named after the cloth in which the dumplings are traditionally boiled) with custard, a Scottish dessert made with dried fruit, oatmeal, spices and beef suet. The hearty foods are paired with lots of alcoholic beverages…and subsequently lots of dancing and singing!

Celebrations in St Andrews

The town of St Andrews, named after the patron Saint, sometimes participates in week long celebrations, including ‘the big Hoolie’ on the closest Saturday to the last day of the month. The day usually begins mid-morning with a community market, with an emphasis on Scottish and local products. Celebrations truly kick off in the evening with live music from a stage located at the end of the street and a street Ceilidh for everyone to jump into. The Ceilidh is followed by a torch parade through the town and the evening is concluded with a spectacular fireworks display. The day provides a chance for the whole community to celebrate the proud religious history of the town in which they live, with both students and locals alike coming together for the event. Venues such as Forgans also host the option for a traditional St Andrews day meal on the 30th itself!

Katharine George

St Andrews '24

Studying Modern History and English at the University of St Andrews with an interest in exploring a career in journalism after graduating. Most frequently seen with a coffee and book in each hand, but if not then I can be found running around on the hockey pitch!