St Andrew’s Day falls on 30th November each year, and is the National Day of Scotland, although it is not currently a public holiday (in common with the days relating to the patron saints of the other nations which form the United Kingdom). In recent years, there have been calls for the day to be made a public holiday, but as yet these have not been successful. After Independence, this may well change!
St Andrew was one of the 12 Apostles and the elder brother of St Peter. According to tradition, he was a Jew born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee although, if so, it seems strange that he should have been given the name Andreas. However, there are no records of an alternative Hebrew or Aramaic name for him.
Andrew was the first disciple of Jesus Christ, having formerly been a disciple of John The Baptist. He is recorded as being present at many of the more important occasions related in the Gospels. He and his brother were fishermen and lived at Capernaum.
After the execution of Jesus, Andrew is believed to have gone either to the Black Sea or Greece (possibly both). There are strong reasons to associate him with Constantinople and Patras, in what is now Southern Greece and that his activities angered the Romans leading to his crucifixion at Patras for his activities and beliefs.
There is an old saying that “Wherever lilies of the valley grow wild, the parish church is always dedicated to St Andrew,” though why (or even if) this should be so is beyond me.
St Andrew’s association with Scotland goes back many years although there are many conflicting accounts. He is believed to have been adopted as Patron Saint about the middle of the 10th century. The saltire, the type of cross on which he is said to have been crucified, has been the flag of Scotland for centuries. It is also the flag of Tenerife and the naval Jack of Russia. The Saltire is included in the Union Flag of Great Britain as a result of the Act of Union in 1707, and the American Confederate flag contained a Saltire.
Three hundred years following his death Andrew’s bones were apparently taken to Constantinople from their burial place at Patras, under the orders of the Emperor Constantine. The bones fell into the hands of a monk now known as St Regulus who had a dream in which an angel told him to take the bones to the “ends of the earth” so as to protect them.
Scotland (to the Greeks and Romans at the time) was just about the “end of the earth” so, according to legend, St Regulus arranged for them to be transported to Scotland or possibly brought them himself by sea. Some accounts then say he was shipwrecked off the Fife Coast at what is now the town of St Andrews, more famous for golf nowadays.
Over the years since, more and more relics of St Andrew have found their way to Scotland, and they are now housed in various locations. As recently as 1969, on a visit to Scotland, Pope Paul VI gave further relics to the Scottish Catholic Church.
St Andrew’s Day itself is a fairly low key celebration in Scotland, so low key, in fact, that you might not even notice it. At the moment, it is definitely not as heavily promoted as the national days in Wales, Ireland and parts of England. In some places in Scotland you would probably come to the conclusion that St Patrick’s Day is of more importance! This could be because St Andrew’s Day is too close to Christmas, or because of the huge popularity of Burns Night or Hogmanay – or could it just be apathy? Toiling under the yoke of the United Kingdom does not leave much room for celebration, in many Scots’ opinion.
Of course in Scottish churches, many of which are named after St Andrew, there are special services to celebrate him and his links with the country. St Andrew is celebrated by all Christian denominations, and globally in both Western and Eastern Orthodox churches. This reflects the fact that St Andrew is not just associated with Scotland. He is also a Patron Saint in Greece, Romania, Russia, Amalfi in Italy, Luqa (Malta) and Prussia.
Wherever Scots are found around the world you will find societies dedicated to St Andrew. These societies are focal points for Scots to meet, not just (or even mainly) to commemorate his life but to socialise and share memories of their homeland and heritage.