Saint Andrew’s Day: History, Kindness, and Bagpipes

Saint Andrew’s Day, on 30 November, is the national day of Scotland. Whether you are in Scotland or not, if you’d like to join in the celebration, there are a number of ways to do that.

To give Saint Andrew’s Day celebrations some context, a bit of history. Saint Andrew, who was one of the twelve apostles, was not a Scot and never made it to Scotland. Some of his bones did, however. There are several legends about how and when this first happened. One of them involves the monk Saint Rule (or Regulus) having a vision in which he was told to take the bones of Saint Andrew to the ends of the earth. He set sail from Greece. This was in 345. Saint Rule was shipwrecked on the coast of Fife, which was sort of the end of the earth then – and so Saint Andrew came to Scotland.

fife coast saint andrews day scotland

The resting place for the saint’s bones became a place of pilgrimage. A town grew up, and a church – later a cathedral. Miracles began to be attributed to Saint Andrew in Scotland, including a battle in the 800s in which, it was said a saltire – the x–shaped cross on which Saint Andrew died – was seen in the sky, as an answer to prayer and a herald of victory. That saltire – and the blue and white colors – became the flag of Scotland.

The celebration of Saint Andrew’s Day began not in Scotland itself, but in America. In Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1700s, a group of Scottish expats wanted to share their pride in their homeland. Several years later, a group of people from Scotland living in New York decided to form a group to help the poor, and they named it after Saint Andrew.

scotland mist mountains saint andrews day

The saint’s day, and his name, and the knowledge of the love of him by Scots spread. Soon enough celebrations of the day came back to Scotland. Saint Andrew’s relics are long gone, having been destroyed during the Reformation. The town still thrives, though the historic cathedral is in ruins – which you can visit, they are Managed by Historic Environment Scotland.

st andrews cathedral ruins scotland

The intellectually renown University of Saint Andrews. – alma mater of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – stands still as one of the most respected and oldest universities in the world.

But – how do you celebrate Saint Andrew’s Day?

In Scotland itself, I’ve found it to be a bit more free form than celebrations of Burns Night or Hogmanay, which each have sets of traditions. Outwith Scotland – this makes sense as connecting with the homeland– there are likely parades with bagpipes and people eating haggis and drinking whisky. Saint Andrew’s Day balls and other gatherings are popular across the globe.

scotland woman piper busker

Those things all take place within Scotland too, but in a rather less formal way than other holidays. There will often be bagpipes played and fireworks set off, both in Scotland and elsewhere, and gatherings of friends and family. It’s a saint’s day after all, so attendance at church services is appropriate as well. Of course, Saint Andrew’s Day is a fine time for music – there are ideas of recordings you could choose a bit later in this story.

The Scottish government is suggesting that this year, everyone take time for a small act of kindness. Saint Andrew’s Day Make Someone’s Day the initiative is called. It is a chance, they say, for everyone to join in Scotland’s special day.

It might be looking up an old friend, spending time with a neighbor who could be alone, buying a coffee or tea for a homeless person, dropping off an item or two at a food bank — whatever your kindness and creativity may suggest. This will be, the organizers say, a recognition and extension of the people of Scotland’s fine reputation for friendliness and generosity, and will be following in Saint Andrew’s footsteps, as well.

It is a thoughtful initiative, and one that needn’t be confined to Scotland, or to Saint Andrew’s Day. In Scotland or not, with connections to Scotland or not, it’s a fine way to join in celebrating Saint Andrew’s Day.

Music to go along with your Saint Andrew’s Day celebrations:

Capercaillie’s recording At the Heart of it All speaks to past and present of Scotland and beyond, with tune and melody, and lyrics in both Gaelic and English. The founding members of Capercaillie, composer and keyboard/accordion player Donald Shaw and singer Karen Matheson, come from Argyll.

Echoes, from Emily Smith, includes songs from across Scotland (and a few from other places given a Scottish flair). Smith always includes music from her home area in Dumfries and Galloway.

A Glint o’ Scottish Fiddle is the name Patsy Reid has given her journey through well known and lesser known classics, especially including some from her east coast home regions.

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