St Andrew’s Day

by Julia Bradley on November 27, 2013

As we celebrate all things Scottish on November 30, we take a look at the history of Scotland’s patron saint and why the thistle became the country’s national emblem.

Who was St Andrew?

St Andrew was a fisherman working in the Black Sea who became one of Jesus’s first apostles.

He was sentenced to death by crucifixion by the Romans in Greece, but asked to be crucified on a diagonal cross because he didn’t consider himself worthy enough to die on the same shape of cross as Jesus.

The Scottish flag – the Saltire – is based on the X-shaped cross on which he was crucified on November 30, 60 AD.

Legend has it that a Greek monk called Regulus was ordered in a vision to take some relics of St Andrew to the “ends of the earth” for safekeeping.

He set sail and eventually came ashore on the coast of Fife at a settlement which grew into the town we know today as St Andrews. The cathedral became a place of religious pilgrimage, and Scotland’s oldest university was founded in 1413.

Another version of events states that in 832 AD, a St Andrew’s cross was formed by clouds in the sky on the morning of a crucial battle between the Picts and the Angles. The Picts, who were victorious, were inspired by the symbol.

St Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.

Traditional celebrations

St Andrew’s Day is a bank holiday in Scotland and is marked with celebrations of Scottish culture, including traditional music, dance and food.

Tasty treats that are likely to be on the menu include cullen skink, cock-a-leekie soup, Arbroath smokie, haggis, neeps and tatties, and cranachan.

Special events and activities held around the country also include art exhibitions, ceilidhs, poetry recitals and, of course, bagpipe playing and kilt wearing!

Why is the thistle Scotland’s national emblem?

No one knows for sure how this prickly weed with pink or purple flowers came to symbolise the Scots but, according to folklore, a group of sleeping Scottish soldiers were saved from ambush when a Viking invader trod on a thistle in his bare feet.

He cried out in pain, rousing the Scots from their slumber so they could defeat an attack and save Scotland. It’s a good story, but whether there’s any truth in it is anyone’s guess!

There’s also some doubt surrounding which species of thistle can lay claim to the title of national symbol. Spear, stemless, cotton, musk, melancholy and Our Lady’s thistle have all been put forward as candidates at some point or other.

One thing we do know for sure is that the first use of the thistle as a royal symbol was on silver coins issued by James III in 1470. These days you can see the emblem on everything from business and police logos to sports badges and tourist attractions.

There was also a 1926 poem written about the plant. A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, by Hugh MacDiarmid, really gets you in the mood for a visit to Scotland.

So, whatever you’re doing to celebrate St Andrew’s Day, “gie it laldy” (give it your all)!


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Julia Bradley

Research Assistant at Interflora - interested in all things PR!

Post category: Occasions  

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