Saint Andrew's Day (30th November)

St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. Read our feature about St Andrew’s Day to find out his story – and get inspiration for how you could celebrate Scotland!

Scottish Flag On Flagpole

Saint Andrew – The Myth

Apostolic Romances and Apocrypha

Early Christianity did not have a Bible as we know it today. One of the earliest common bibles was the Septuagint, a Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. This had been translated and completed in 132 BC – long before Jesus was born. It took until AD 382 before an ‘official’ Bible was compiled together (the Latin Vulgate Bible). Until that point, there were various religious manuscripts in Latin (the Vetus Latina) with significant regional variations, available from the second century onwards.

In these times, the stories around the key characters in early Christianity were in a degree of flux. Some authors of religious manuscripts and story tellers used this opportunity to create adventure stories, and colourful accounts of exploration and supernatural powers. Some theologians believe that these stories were Christianity’s attempt to retell mythology and Christianise it. It is likely that these stories were popular with early Christians and recent converts at the time. Saint Andrew stars in two of these: Acta Andreae (The Acts of Saint Andrew) and the Acts of Andrew and Matthias. You can read large parts of these online, for example in The Apocryphal New Testament published by Oxford University Press.

Eventually, when efforts were made to centralise control and standardise religious scripture and teachings, the more outlandish tales were not taken into the canon. They became apocrypha (‘hidden writings’), and fell out of common use and distribution.

According to apostolic writings and romances, St Andrew healed the blind and brought the dead back to life. He single-handedly stopped an army and calmed stormy seas. He terminated a pregnancy and killed the unwanted embryo through prayer alone. And then, in one of the more outlandish tales, there was the jailbreak that he and Jesus Christ carried out to save their mate Matthias from cannibals. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the narrative about St Andrew’s activities has become somewhat less colourful over time.

The story of St Andrew has no definitive version, and has been subject to the creative dabblings of various writers, and the restraining hands of even more editors, until no one seems to be able to agree on anything much about Andrew at all, except the whereabouts of his bones.

Saint Andrew – The Man

This much is least controversial: most sources, including the Bible itself, name Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. After Christ’s death, Andrew went out to spread the word and convert people. He is often credited with having brought Christianity to Asia Minor, regions of Greece, Romania and as far afield as the Ukraine. Eventually, he was crucified (allegedly in Patras, Greece).

Nearly two millennia after his lifetime, not everyone agrees on the shape of the cross he was crucified on. A popular myth, introduced hundreds of years after his death, is that he asked to be crucified on a cross that was X-shaped (also known as a saltire or crux decussata), as he did not consider himself worthy of the same kind of cross that Jesus was martyred on. This legend led to x-shaped crosses being known as ‘St Andrew’s Cross’. It is, however, a legend not corroborated by any contemporary records or evidence. That hasn’t stopped the Scottish flag (as seen at the top of this page) being based on the shape of the Saltire.

Saint Andrew – The Bones

After his death, some of his bones travelled much further than St Andrew ever did in his lifetime. Thanks to the medieval obsession with relics – primarily the bones of saints and Christian martyrs, but also other items directly associated with them – the remains of Saint Andrew were split up and carried to different places across Europe.

Here’s a map of where you can find significant relics of Saint Andrew today:

The spread of locations would be more impressive, but during the Reformation, Catholic fascination with relics was seen as idolatry by some, and many relics were destroyed.

Saint Andrew – The Patron Saint

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Ukraine, Scotland, Russia, Romania and Greece, amongst others countries.

In Scotland, Saint Andrew’s Day is the national holiday, and has been declared a bank holiday by Scottish Parliament.

Burns Supper

Scots on Screen

If you’d like to set the mood for a Scottish-themed weekend, and the effort of a Burns supper is a bit too much, here are some movie suggestions:

  • The Stone of Destiny – Scottish students in the 1950s organise a heist to steal the titular stone from Westminster Abbey. A heist movie with a Scottish patriotic twist to it.
  • Braveheart – A big budget Hollywood sword battle epic that has almost nothing to do with history, but it’s set in Scotland.
  • Rob Roy – Another big budget Hollywood sword battle epic that has almost nothing to do with history, but it’s set in Scotland.
  • Whisky Galore – Classic Ealing comedy about the kidnapping of a cargo of whisky.
  • Trainspotting – Drugs, crime, and a dark sense of humour fuel this movie set in the underbelly of Edinburgh.

Another Scottish tradition which is increasingly popular is Burns supper. This does not have to take place on a fixed date, but is often celebrated on January 25th – the birthday of Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet and national icon. One thing you could do to get into a Scottish spirit for Saint Andrew’s Day is to host (or partake) in a Burns Supper on the day, so here is a very brief summary of what that entails.

  1. A social gathering of guests. Mingling should occur.
  2. Host’s welcoming speech. Everyone sits down at the table and, if Christian, the Selkirk Grace is said.
  3. The soup course is served – ideally, a Scottish soup.
  4. Entrance of the Haggis: everyone stands for this momentous event, and the haggis should be presented on a large dish and carried into the dining room by the cook. Why not put on a CD with bag pipe music in the background for maximum effect?
  5. The Address to a Haggis is recited while the haggis is sliced open and served.
  6. A whisky toast is addressed to the haggis (everyone stands and shouts “The Haggis!” with raised glasses), then everyone tucks in and the main meal begins.
  7. At the end of the meal, a loyal toast is pronounced. The host stands up, loudly toasts (by simply saying “The Queen!”), and everyone may now smoke or retire from the meal.
  8. Someone should offer a brief entertainment – reciting a poem or singing a song written by Burns.
  9. A speech on Robert Burns’ life is delivered (“Immortal Memory”) – the speech should be amusing, yet serious.
  10. A second round of entertainment is delivered – again, a poem or song recital.
  11. Toast to the Lassies: a male speaker delivers a humorous (but positive) speech about women, ideally with some reference to Robert Burns and his life, and finishing with “To the Lassies!”
  12. A final round of entertainment – again poetry or song recital.
  13. Reply to the Toast to the Lassies (also known as Toast to the Laddies): a (female) speaker gets a chance to reply to the previous speech. Again, a humorous toast, this time about men.
  14. The host thanks all the entertainers, speakers and guests.
  15. Auld Lang Syne is sung and the evening is complete.

If you don’t have dozens of guests and a large hall, you can still replicate some of the spirit of such an event in a smaller group – and if the group is small enough, everyone can have a chance to give a toast or speech or two.

Alternatively, if you are feeling lazy (or you aren’t enthusiastic about trying haggis), you could opt for a movie night in – there’s a suitably Scottish list of suggestions on this page to inspire your plans.