Friday, December 01, 2006

St. Andrew’s Day

Entry for 30 November 2006:

One of my family’s many eccentricities over the years was the celebration of half-birthdays. Since my birthday is the last day of May, I consider the last day of November to be my half-birthday. Thus, I was delighted to learn that the 30th of November is the feast day of the patron saint of Scotland, St. Andrew, a fisherman by trade and one the original 12 apostles. He is most famous for having been crucified not on a standard Roman cross, but instead on an X-shaped cross. Legend has it that after hanging on this cross for 3 days, he was offered a pardon, but refused to let himself be taken down, insisting on martyrdom instead. To modern sensibilities such terminal stubbornness smacks suicide, or at least self-destructive pride; however, I suspect there may have been extenuating circumstances…

And one can see that this story resonates with Scottish people on several levels: Most obviously, Scots in various centuries will have found it easy to identify with a fellow fisherman. In addition, the stubbornness exemplified by the apocryphal story of his death must appeal as a metaphor for the stubborn streak that seems to be part of Scottish character. (I recognize a penchant for perverse stubbornness in myself and in my family, so I see now that we have come by this trait by way of our ethnic heritage.)

In any case, the connection to St. Andrew and his X-shaped crucifixion explains the Saltire, or Scottish national flag, a white X (otherwise known as the Cross of St. Andrew) on a blue background. A grim symbol, and also a defiant one, clashing as it does with the more conventional cross embedded in the English Union Jack. X’s are also used to cancel or cross things out, so the Scottish X also stands for a spirit of negation (which takes us back to Dave’s badgers again). It is some consolation that the patron saint of Scotland is not famous for killing a symbol of the Mother Goddess (i.e., a dragon)!

Some 1200 years after his death, St. Andrew’s purported relics were carted off to Scotland for the cathedral church in his namesake town, also the seat of the oldest university in Scotland. The town and university of St. Andrews are definitely on our list of Scottish Destinations.

But what do people do in Scotland to celebrate their favorite saint on his feast day? Essentially, they celebrate Scottishness: First, they drink and eat traditional Scottish food. Haggis is de rigeur. Since I have no taste for sheep’s guts and little taste for whiskey, I was delighted to discover the vegetarian version of haggis. (Lorna C says that the best brand of vegetarian haggis is McSweeny’s, which would delight my old friend John McSweeny, a neuropsychologist and fellow Scottish American.) This is made of lentils, what appears to be cracked barley, carrots, and pepper. The faculty refectory served a traditional-type meal of veg haggis, chopped turnips (a favorite vegetable here) and mashed potatoes. It wasn’t bad.

Second, people hear sing or play traditional music, or put on ceilidhs (social dances). While I was listening to a live concert on Radio Scotland, I remembered the Partick Folk Festival, and found that St. Andrew’s day is the excuse for a week-long celebration of Scottish trad music in various venues all over Scotland. We have made plans to attend this Saturday’s Big Day Oot concert, which is part of the Partick Folk Festival. (In the process, we learned that Partick is the traditionally Gaelic section of Glasgow, where highlanders had to go during the Clearances of the 19th Century had to stay before being transported to America and other places.)

There are serious discussions underway as part of Scottish devolution and nationalism to make St. Andrew’s Day a national holiday in Scotland. This would also aid ex-pat Americans by providing something to put in the place of Thanksgiving. We need all the holidays we can find during this dark time of year!


Kelvin said...

Haggis is really de rigeur on Burns Night (25 January) rather than St Andrewstide. Haggis for St Andrew is a fairly new idea. (No doubt there is a Haggis Marketing Board working hard somewhere).

Sandy said...

Kelvin is indeed correct. However there is never a bad time to eat REAL haggis. Oh, and the term for vegetarian haggis is vaggis [pronouned va-gis]. Like haggis, with a V. :)

Maggi said...

the veggie version is MacSween's!