The patron saint of Scotland is celebrated annually on the 30th November. St Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s national day and cause for big celebrations in the Scottish calendar. Since 2006, St Andrew’s Day has been declared a Scottish bank holiday unless it falls on the weekend, in which case the bank holiday is honoured on the following Monday. The students of St Andrew’s university also benefit from a day off. Throughout the country, on the feast of St Andrew there is much merriment and celebration with people traditionally enjoying local food, drinks and live music.
Who was St Andrew?
St Andrew is thought to have been a fisherman and one of Jesus’ apostles but his exact origins are unknown. He was sentenced to death by crucifixion but St Andrew is said to have requested a diagonal cross, rather than the standard cross as he believed he wasn't worthy to die in the same way as Jesus. The 30th November is thought to be the date on which Andrew was crucified. The shape of Andrew's cross inspired the design of the Scottish flag, the Saltire. The Saltire is thought to be the oldest flag in Europe.
At the Battle of Athelstaneford, East Lothian in AD832, the army led by Kind Angus, invaded the Lothians which were still ruled by Northumberland at the time. During the battle with the Saxons, King Angus prayed for help and saw the image of a saltire in the clouds backed by a blue sky, reminiscent of Andrew's crucifix. King Angus was so moved he declared that if his army won the battle, Andrew would be made patron saint of Scotland. The Scots won and the rest is history. St Andrew is thought to have become the patron saint prior to AD1000 and began appearing on coinage in 1390.
In addition to Scotland, St Andrew is the patron saint of Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Colombia, Barbados and Tenerife. St Andrew is also the patron saint of an eclectic selection of other professions and conditions including fishmongers, fishermen, women trying to conceive, singers, spinsters, maidens, sore throats and gout.
How is St Andrew's Day celebrated around Scotland?
On the 30th November, all buildings with a flagpole fly the Saltire and both the British Prime Minister and Scottish First Minister give St Andrew's Day messages. People take time off and set about enjoying themselves at one of the wide variety of events being held across the country. Here are a few of highlights.
The town that bears the patron saint's name holds food and drink events throughout November in anticipation of the day. This year St Andrews will be hosting an ‘At the ends of the Earth’ festival which will celebrate with a lantern procession, an outdoor ceilidh and give a grand finale of fireworks by the harbour.
Saltire Festival, East Lothian
Beginning on St Andrew's Day and running through until December 3rd, East Lothian will be celebrating with a number of nocturnal events including a 10km night run, twilight golf, live music and lots of food and drink.
Always a grand event in Edinburgh, St Andrew's Day marks the beginning of the Edinburgh winter festivals. Guests are entertained by storytelling events, traditional music and elaborate food and drink markets.
There are some great opportunities to explore Scottish history at the St Andrew's Day event at the Hunterian museum. Visitors can also enjoy the St Andrew's Day torchlight parade in Glasgow's West End, which is always an impressive sight for spectators.
Harbour Festival of Light, Irvine
All along the historic waterfront in conjunction with the Scottish Maritime Museum, don't miss the free events in Irvine such as fireworks and a water themed sculpture trail. You may also want to catch the aerial acrobatics and light show at The Linthouse.
St Andrew's Day marks the beginning of Oban Winter Festival where you can find ceilidhs, whisky tasting, food markets and even a reindeer parade.
An Lanntair is Stornoway’s cultural hub and will be hosting cinema events, food, drink and quiz nights as well as contemporary and traditional music to celebrate Scotland's national day.
What to expect at a St Andrew's Day celebration.
Ceilidhs are a big part of St Andrew's Day festivities. A ceilidh is traditional Scottish style dancing and in Gaelic means ‘party’ or ‘gathering’. There are set routines to follow but in truth it's all very relaxed and the only hard and fast rule is to dance with enthusiasm and enjoy yourself. You'll be talked through it at the beginning and there's always someone on the dance floor to lend a hand.
Scottish food and drink is varied and delicious and usually sourced locally. The most famous Scottish dish, a Burns night favourite but also celebrated on St Andrew's Day is of course haggis. Traditionally made from a sheep's stomach, modern haggis is more likely to be made from synthetic sausage casing. It doesn't look the most appetising but is filled with delicious ingredients like meat, onions, oatmeal, salt and spices to create a satisfying treat at a feast. Other regulars include roasted meats, Cullen skink, shortbread and cranachan.
Expect a wee dram or two at a St Andrew's Day celebration as well. With many distilleries in the country, Scotland is the perfect place to educate yourself on whisky with some of the finest offerings in the world. There are also some highly regarded distillers of gin and vodka along with some great local beer brewers.
Whatever you enjoy, you can be assured that a St Andrew's celebration will provide something to tickle your taste buds and get your toes tapping.