Posted by Ian
In a parallel world, today (Thursday 30th November) everyone is busy decking themselves out in tartan and dyeing their hair blue and preparing to head off to their nearest thistle-adorned hostelry (of which there is one on every corner) to while away the hours singing A Man’s A Man For A’That, wolf down haggis and neeps, and earnestly recite the likes of "Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie."
In the real world, however, none of this is happening. For St Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland, is barely celebrated, let alone heard of, south of the border; and the kind of universal revelry that grips the nation upon the likes of St Patrick’s Day is but a mere pipe dream.
This seems absurd. Apparently we are quick to cherrypick the culture of the Irish – not just a different nation but an entirely separate landmass to Britain – but not that of the Scots, from whom many of us are descended and to whom we owe a debt of thanks for golf, oil, the raincoat, television, steam engines, chloroform, gas lighting, the bicycle, thermodynamics, tyres, the telephone, pencillin, radar, the monorail and cloning. Plus these illustrious personages.
Scotland is far easier to get to than Ireland, has the nicest landscapes in the world, has far more of a sense of national pride than any of the countries which make up the British Isles, still uses one pound notes (or it did the last time I was there) and has, in the shape of Edinburgh, the finest city in the whole of the UK.
I’m not Scottish, but I am British. Or at least I am for the time being, pending the outcome of next May’s elections which may prove to mark the first step along the road to Scottish independence – at least given some of the latest opinion polls and political debate doing the rounds, which we showcased on MSN on Tuesday.
If the Scots do decide to move from devolution to full-scale independence, chances are wider awareness of its customs, traditions and rituals, rather than diminish, would probably increase. Maybe that would be the trigger for a proper nationwide appreciation of St Andrew’s Day. After all, St Patrick’s Day only became such a big deal in the UK once the bulk of Ireland achieved independence in the 1920s. And you tend to learn more about something that’s previously been under your nose only when it decides to take one step back and bring itself better into focus.
Saying that, how many of us can honestly say we know why our respective nations have patron saints? Moreover, just who are these mysterious folk who only have one name and who claim to embody some aspect of our national psyche?
George killed a dragon: a qualification which confirms the man was good at thuggery but little else. Patrick ostensibly kicked all snakes out of Ireland, but records show there weren’t any snakes there in the first place. Does that make him one of history’s greatest con merchants? As for David, he used to go around Wales giving speeches where, if the people at the back couldn’t see, he made the ground underneath his feet rise up. So either he had power to make small hillocks appear wherever he went, or else he carried a small soapbox around, like John Major in the 1992 General Election.
Andrew, meanwhile, never even set foot in Scotland, instead choosing to appear in a cloud in the shape of a saltire during a battle in the eighth century. Allegedly. St Andrew is also the patron saint of army rangers, mariners, fishermen, fishmongers, rope-makers, singers, performers, Sicily, Greece, Russia, Romania, Malta and Prussia, the last of which ceased to exist in 1867.
In short, the entire idea of saints’ days is built on anachronism. But then aren’t so many other similar festivals and pastimes? Surely it’s the essence of national days rather than their precise origin, lost somewhere in the mists of time, which is important? America do national holidays far better than us, but even Thanksgiving, their most famous, is a jumbled amalgam of colonial, civil war and 20th century chicanery.
Yes, we do need St Andrew’s Day, along with all other saints’ days, but perhaps only as a national holidays and not strange mystical happenings laced with dubious nationalistic, weird spiritual and quasi-xenophobic overtones. For if Scotland ultimately becomes independent, St Andrew’s Day will become all the more important as (literally) a flagship occasion. Perhaps the rest of the country will then start to take more notice of it. Especially those of us dwelling in Albion.
To coin a phrase: what do they know of England, who only England know?