Scots welcome the winter with a celebration of their patron saint on 30 November. St. Andrew’s Day is a voluntary bank holiday and cèilidhs take place the length and breadth of the country. Cèilidhs are social gatherings that feature traditional food, drink, music and dancing.
Not a lot is known about the saint himself. Ironically, he never set foot in Scotland. He and his brother Simon Peter were fishermen from Galilee and the first of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. In 60AD, he was martyred for his beliefs: he was crucified by the Romans in Patras, Greece. It is said that he thought himself unworthy of dying in the same way as Jesus. He was therefore bound to an X-shaped cross, known as a ‘saltire’. The cross of the saltire became his symbol and the day of his crucifixion became his saint day.
Some of his relics — a kneecap, arm and finger bone — arrived in Scotland after his death and were housed in a chapel in Kilrymont, later renamed St. Andrews. It became a site of pilgrimage, and in 1158, a cathedral was built to house the reliquary. In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath officially named him Scotland’s patron saint. Both cathedral and relics were destroyed during the Reformation. The Archbishop of Amalfi — who shares the same patron saint, along with Barbados, Cyprus Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Tenerife — donated a piece of Andrew’s shoulder blade. The relics now reside in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh.
The flag of Scotland also features the saltire cross in white against a blue background. According to legend, St. Andrew appeared to King Angus the night before a battle against the Angles in 862, promising him victory. The next day, the armies saw a cross-shaped cloud formation against a blue sky and, though outnumbered, the Scots won. It is the oldest flag still in use in Europe.
Celebrating St. Andrew’s Day became popular among immigrants in America in the 18th century, to honour their Scottish roots. It then took hold in the ‘home country’. While festivities are more low-key than during Hogmanay or Burns Night, St. Andrew’s Day is still one of Scotland’s most important holidays.
Questo articolo appartiene al numero November 2023 della rivista Speak Up.