Skip to main content

Introduction

A well-regarded celebration in the Scottish bank holiday calendar, St Andrew’s Day, marks an honourable tribute to Scotland’s patron saint, St Andrew. This historic event, eventually leading to the inception of a bank holiday, brims with tradition, culture, and rich historical context that extends well beyond the realms of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

St Andrew – Patron Saint of Scotland

Before delving into the particulars of St Andrew’s Day as a bank holiday, it is essential to grasp a deep understanding of who St Andrew was and why he is so intrinsically linked to Scottish identity.

St Andrew, known for being one of Jesus Christ’s original twelve apostles, never actually set foot in the land we now know as Scotland. Despite this geographical disconnection, the Scottish people adopted him as their patron saint due to several historical and mythological associations.

The Relics of St Andrew

A pivotal moment in linking St Andrew with Scotland dates back to the 8th Century. St Rule, also known as St Regulus, a Greek monk, was guided by an angelic vision to take the relics of St Andrew to the “ends of the earth” for safekeeping. He landed on the east coast of Scotland, in a place now known as St Andrews, giving the town its name and establishing a religious centre that would eventually become a major pilgrimage site.

The Saltire – St Andrew’s Cross

The Saltire, the national flag of Scotland, also known as St Andrew’s Cross, is another significant association. According to legend, in 832 AD, on the eve of a battle between the Picts, led by King Angus, and the Angles of Northumbria, St Andrew appeared in King Angus’s dream promising victory. The next morning, the shape of a diagonal cross, similar to the one on which St Andrew was crucified, appeared in the sky. This inspired the soldiers, led them to victory, and resulted in the adoption of the Saltire as Scotland’s national flag.

Origins of St Andrew’s Day

Celebrated annually on the 30th of November, St Andrew’s Day is thought to originate from the reign of Malcolm III (1034 – 1093), who moved the Samhain (Halloween) to coincide with this date to ensure enough animals were kept alive for the winter stocks.

St Andrew’s Day Celebrations

Over the centuries, the Scots developed numerous customs and traditions to celebrate St Andrew’s Day. These include special feasts, ceilidh dances, music performances, and the recitation of Scottish poetry, with a particular emphasis on the works of Robert Burns. Such gatherings helped solidify the Scottish community’s collective identity and sense of nationalism, keeping the spirit of St Andrew alive.

St Andrew’s Day as a Bank Holiday

The journey of St Andrew’s Day towards its status as a bank holiday in Scotland was a long and complex one.

Calls for Recognition

For many years, St Andrew’s Day was not a bank holiday, and people went about their daily business despite the celebrations. It was only in the early 21st Century that there were calls for St Andrew’s Day to be recognised as a bank holiday, aligning Scotland with other countries that celebrate their patron saints’ days.

Legislation and Implementation

The Scottish Parliament passed the St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act in January 2006, declaring St Andrew’s Day a bank holiday. However, it was deemed an optional holiday – a ‘voluntary public holiday’ rather than a statutory one. This discretion allowed employers to choose whether to give their staff a day off.

Today’s Observance

In the years that followed, the bank holiday has become increasingly recognised. Although not a compulsory day off, many businesses and schools opt to take the day off, embracing the opportunity to celebrate Scottish heritage. Additionally, many free events are often hosted across Scotland, including traditional Scottish music, dance, food and drink, all to pay homage to St Andrew.

Conclusion

In essence, St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday serves as an emblem of Scotland’s rich cultural history. It merges a deep-seated religious past with modern national identity, providing an opportunity for Scots worldwide to connect with their roots.

While the bank holiday status of St Andrew’s Day was a relatively recent development, it reflects an ongoing commitment to acknowledging Scotland’s unique heritage and maintaining its traditions in an ever-changing world. Through this lens, we can understand that the history of St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday is not only a story of a date in the calendar but a narration of national pride, faith, and collective identity.

Index