To most people, St Andrew’s day is another excuse for festivities and fun. Celebrated in Scotland with a bank holiday each year on November 30th, St Andrew’s day has become a day of festivities that celebrates and recognises all the great things that make Scotland so very Scottish.
St Andrew was officially made the patron saint of Scotland in 1320 following the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath - Scotland’s declaration of independence from England. However, the history of celebrating St Andrew in Scotland goes back over 1,000 years. Traditional ways of honouring St Andrew include music and dancing festivals, poetry recitals and storytelling, and artistic gatherings celebrating Scottish heritage and culture.
But behind the bagpipes and the parties, who was St Andrew, and why do we still celebrate his crucifixion nearly 2,000 years later? Here are five surprising facts about St Andrew that you might not have known.
1. He wasn’t Scottish
It’s easy to think that the patron saint of Scotland, which signifies all things Scottish, would have been a natural-born Scottish citizen, but the truth is that St Andrew came from much further afield. He was born over three and a half thousand miles away in the fishing town Bethsaida, on the shores of the sea of Galilee - now modern-day Israel.
Despite extensive travel across the Baltic and Mediterranean, St Andrew never travelled to Scotland in his lifetime and died nearly 1,300 years before officially becoming a patron saint for the country.
Following his death, relics (small body parts, usually bones) made their way to Scotland and became important pilgrimage sites for Scottish Catholics. These were reportedly destroyed, however, during the Reformation.
2. His name is Greek
Andrew is a name of Greek origin and means ‘brave’. Despite being born in a Jewish region, it wasn’t uncommon for parents to use names that weren’t traditionally of Hebrew origin for their children - especially in areas like Galilee, where Greek culture and language were heavily present.
3. He was the first disciple of Jesus.
Andrew was among the first of Jesus’ 12 disciples, along with his brother Peter. He was the first of the 12 men to be baptised by John the Baptist and is known in the Greek Orthodox church as the First-Called.
4. He was crucified on an x-shaped cross
As a disciple of Jesus, Andrew travelled around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, spreading the good word. While in Greece, however, he was told to stop proselytising by the governor, Aegeas, as they still worshipped the Roman gods.
Andrew refused to stop talking about Jesus, his miracles, and Christianity and was arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion. Early records suggest that Andrew was tied to a Latin cross and crucified traditionally; however, over time, the tradition has evolved to say that Andrew requested to be crucified on a cross in the shape of an x as he didn’t feel worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
The legend would influence the Scottish flag, the saltire, with a white cross on a blue background to emulate the cross on which St Andrew was supposedly crucified.
5. He’s not just the patron saint of Scotland
St Andrew is also the patron saint of Romania, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Barbados. Each country has its celebrations and honours of the patron saint and celebrates St Andrews day for different reasons.
In Romania, they believe that St Andrew brought Christianity to the region himself, while in Barbados, they celebrate St Andrew’s day as the Barbadian day of independence. They even refer to St Andrew in their coat of arms in the form of two crossed sugar canes.
Meanwhile, in Poland, it’s a day of feasting and partying all night, while in Ukraine, St Andrews day is celebrated on December 13th with parties where pastries and pancakes are used for fortune-telling games to help girls find a husband.
St Andrew is also the patron saint of fishmongers, singers, and women wishing to become mothers.