Monday, 30 November 2009

St. Andrews Day

In the past we threw a lot more parties than we do now. At one point, I aimed to gather people in my house at least once a month and I think we just about managed that one year. I tried to have some sort of theme for each and in reviewing each month, two obvious ideas came up for March: Bill's birthday or St. Patrick's Day.

In the States, St. Pat's Day is all about wearing green or getting pinched, telling leprechaun jokes, wearing a shamrock, watching parades and generally being lighthearted about Irish-ness. Over here in England, only the pubs acknowledge St. Patricks Day, by pushing sales of Guinness and sometimes selling green beer. Aside from that, because of the sad and violent history of England and Ireland, people have a much more serious view of anything to do with Irish-ness. One of the criticisms I've heard is that the US celebrates St. Patrick's day, but what about all the patron saints of the other countries in the United Kingdom? Since I didn't even know their names, I decided to look into these other dates.

This is what I learned about St. Andrew and Scotland's National Day:

  • Scotland is one of only a few countries whose patron saint is an Apostle.

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

  • Only in the last couple of years did the Scottish parliament make St. Andrew's Day a bank holiday. However, banks are not obliged to close nor are employers obliged to grant leave to employees. (So why bother?)

  • More to the point, it is a flag day on which the Scottish flag was flown from Scotland's government buildings in preference to the British flag; that flag is only flown if there is a second flagpole. On UK government buildings in Scotland, flag policy is the reverse. Only recently has Scotland started flying it's own flag in preference to the Union flag on days other than St. Andrew's. The whole flag thing is of course very complicated, which is to be expected. Complexity is an inherent part of British mentality, however I have found that many Scots seem more logical and straightforward in their approach to things.

  • The Scottish flag is called a Saltire, or diagonal cross. St. Andrew is said to have been crucified on a cross this shape.

  • There are all sorts of superstitions about this date around unmarried girls discovering the identify of their future husbands. Things like throwing a shoe, a clog to be precise, over the shoulder at the front door; which direction it points tells whether one will marry in the coming year. Or sleeping nude and dreaming about one's future spouse and something about standing naked and kicking a bale of straw. Doesn't sound like the peasants were very saintly to me.

  • In addition to taking care of unmarried women, St. Andrew is also responsible for looking after gout, singers, sore throats, stiff necks, and women who wish to become mothers. As he was a fisherman, it is more understandable that he is assigned to fishermen, fish dealers and fishmongers.

  • Finally, I grew up with the word hodgepodge, which refers to a disorderly collection of things. Turns out it's also the name of a Scottish mutton stew, called Hotch Potch:

1½ lb neck of mutton;
½ teaspoon salt
2 quarts water
2 chopped onions
2 diced carrots
1 slice of turnip
½ lettuce
½ pint green peas
1 medium cauliflower
1 teaspoon sugar
pepper to taste

Place the mutton, with bones, salt and water in a saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil, then skim. Simmer 1 hour. Add onion, carrot, and turnip. Cover and cook gently for 30 minutes, then chop and add lettuce, and peas. Divide cauliflower into small sprigs. Trim off stalks and add. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes till all the vegetables and meat are tender, then remove bones and meat. Add sugar, pepper and more salt as required. Serves 6. The mutton can be served as a separate course, delicious with chappit tatties and mashed neeps.

Sounds reasonably tasty to me, however, I still have turkey leftovers to deal with.

Anyhow, to my cousin Frank in Scotland, enjoy your National Day!


TKW said...

How interesting to learn where "hodgepodge" comes from. As a nerd who loves words, I thank you!

Struggler said...

I lived in Scotland between the ages of 3-11 and we were always made aware of the special day at school! I'd never heard the concept of throwing a shoe to get a clue who to marry though, that's very sweet.
Happy St Andrew's Day!

Shelley said...

TKW - I, too, am a word-nerd. Good to find a kindred spirit!

Struggler - Schools do tend to pick up on this sort of thing, don't they? I remember something about 89ers day in Oklahoma (to do with the land run).

Someone help me here, was that the only day at school girls got to ask the boys to dance? Yes, I grew up in the dark ages.

Rick Stone said...

That would be Sadie Hawkins Day. It came from the comic strip "Lil Abner" by Al Capp.

BTW, we still celebrate 89'er day each year to honor the first land run that was held in 1889. That was when the government took the land that had been assigned to the Native Americans and opened it up to settlers. (Yes, settlers is spelled correctly. That is the way it is pronounced in Oklahoma.)

Shelley said...

Oh yeah, Sadie Hawkins' Day. I don't remember much about it; I don't even remember wanting to dance with any of the boys.

S-e-t-t-l-e-r-s. You had me looking this up cause I couldn't see what was wrong with spelling it that way. And how else would you pronounce it other than SA-it-lurs?