Today is St. Andrew's Day, and it is the national day for Scotland.
Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland - one of the four patron saints of the British – or Anglo-Celtic – Isles (with the other ones being St. David for Wales, St. Patrick for Ireland, and St. George for England).
He was a Galilean fisherman, who according to the New Testament was a brother of Simon Peter. He was also a disciple of St. John the Baptist, whose testimony led him and his brother to become disciples of Jesus Christ. As such, Andrew was present at many important events in the New Testament, including the Last Supper, and he is credited with preaching the word of God across Greece and Asia Minor during the 1st Century. According to tradition, Andrew also founded a diocese inByzantium that would eventually become the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. He was crucified by the Romans in the city if Patras, Greece on an X-shaped cross (Crux decussata or Saltire). The choice of the Saltire was supposedly made by Andrew because he believed himself to be unworthy of being crucified on the same type of cross on which Christ was crucified. Nonetheless, Andrew became a Christian martyr and a saint.
St. Andrew became the venerated patron saint of many countries and institutions, including Russia, Ukraine, Russia, Greece, Romania, and the Order of the Golden Fleece.
With regard to Scotland, legend tells us that in 832 a Pictish king – Óengus II – led an army of Picts and Scots into battle against a larger army of Angles (one of the early English peoples) under King Æthelstan, and vowed to make Saint Andrew the patron saint of Scotland if his armies won the battle. On the day of the battle, a white diagonal cross appeared to take shape in the clouds against the blue sky, emboldening the soldiers under Óengus with divine inspiration, and leading them to victory. Saint Andrew then became Scotland’s patron saint, and a its flag (and eventually the Union Flag for the United Kingdom) features a white saltire on a blue field.
St. Andrew has also become a place name in several locations in Scotland, including the town of St. Andrews. It is said that a Greek monk by the name of St. Rule was bringing some of saint's remains to Scotland when he got shipwrecked off the coast of a settlement where a church had been built to store the remains, and that St. Andrew's grew from that settlement. It is the home of the University of St. Andrew's which was attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (or the Earl and Countess of Strathearn as they are known in Scotland).
Festivals of celebration for St. Andrew's Day have occurred in traditions going back as far as the reign of King Malcolm III, but it was only in 2006 that the day became an official bank (or public) holiday in Scotland under legislation passed by the devolved Scottish Parliament which was given Royal Assent by Queen Elizabeth.
November 30th is also the date of Barbadian independence, and it is the beginning of a series of winter festivals in Scotland, which culminate on January 25th with Burns Night.
Throughout Scotland, the day is marked by a celebration of Scottish culture, including traditional food, music, and dances. There are special events at Scottish schools, including storytelling, writing tales, cooking meals, and playing bagpipes. This year, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh (the British monarch's official residence in Scotland) was open free of charge to the public, and features an array of activities for people of all ages to participate.
In addition, yesterday also featured Scotsman Andy Murray scoring the decisive point which lifted Great Britain to its first Davis Cup victory in 79 years. That the British tennis squad triumphed on the day leading up to the celebration of one of Britain's patron saints was an added bonus, especially for Murray. British No. 1 now has Wimbledon, Olympic gold, a grand slam, and now - with his teammates - a Davis title under his belt, and this helps to make today all the more special.
Happy St. Andrew's Day!