Is Saint Andrew’s Day controversial?

A few weeks late, I have come across this exchange on the merits of celebrating Saint Andrew’s Day on the 30th of November as a national day for Scotland. Saint Andrew was said to have been crucified on an ‘X’-shaped cross, which gives us the saltire in the modern Scottish flag (pictured above). His apparent connection with Scotland is that some of his relics were brought here after his death, and so he is considered the patron saint of Scotland.

In the article from the Herald, Gordon Ross (treasurer for the Humanist Society of Scotland) argues that (a) Andrew has no demonstrable connection to Scotland (he’s patron saint of many other places as well), (b) it is primarily a religious tradition, which implicitly excludes the many non-Christian people in Scotland, and (c) we have plenty of other days with more genuine merit, to celebrate Scotland as a nation.

Opposing him is Azeem Ibrahim, who argues that religion isn’t a serious part of Scottish Saint Andrews Day celebrations, and that the inclusive celebration of Scottish awesomeness is what the day is about.

This seems to me like a microcosm of the perennial Christmas debates in the atheist community. Is it a problem to celebrate on a day that has been connected to beliefs or values that you reject? As someone who grew up with essentially religion-free Christmases, I just can’t get worried about it. (For us, it was about family, food, gifts, and games.) I’ve never seen evidence that celebrating a secular Christmas somehow lends credence to the non-secular version of it.*

I tend to agree with Ibrahim – the same goes for Saint Andrew’s Day. While I am aware of the legend behind it, I’ve never felt that the religious side was particularly important. It’s about celebrating this wonderful little nation of (currently) five million people, who have produced so much.** (Including, I should point out, many of the central historical figures and cultural traditions celebrated in my homeland, Canada.)

Humanists and atheists often chastise religious people for being too sensitive about their beliefs. I think this is a great opportunity to show that we mean it. Saint Andrew’s Day does not exclude us; it does not demean us. So let’s set aside the historical religious basis of the day and enjoy it for what it is now.***

Lang may your lum reek!


* I feel I should point out this post by Cath, in which I learned that even very conservative Christians don’t necessarily observe Christmas. This doesn’t change the fact that it’s historically a religiously-motivated festival, but it does somewhat derail the assumption that Christianity and Christmas necessarily go together.

** I should also acknowledge that Saint Andrew’s Day is not a huge thing, even in Scotland. In fact, my main experience of it is the free admission to the castle, and perhaps token acknowledgement in the media. So it’s a very different issue in many ways from Christmas. But the parallels are intriguing.

*** Also, I should acknowledge a certain personal bias: Saint Andrew’s Day is also my birthday. It’s quite nice to be offered free admission to national monuments on your birthday.

Image credit:

Saltire from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.



One Response to “Is Saint Andrew’s Day controversial?”

  1. The Cellarer Says:

    "…even very conservative Christians don't observe Christmas…"The non-observance of Christmas is a generally the preserve of a very small part of Christianity – Presbyterianism and some other evangelicals. Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and most protestants observe Christmas, though I believe it was banned in C of E England for while post reformation. Up here, the C of S didn't observe it until relatively recently – my dad in the 50's only had it as a half day holiday from work and services would only be on at Christmas if it was a Sunday anyway. Now only some of the splinters of presbyterian churches still do not mark it, I believe, happy to be corrected here.The low key nature of St Andrew's day and indeed St George's day is interesting. St Patrick's is massive world wide for example and it's that the current Govt are trying to emulate I think, the cynic in me reckons to promote Scotland the brand rather than simply for a celebration's sake.I don't think St Andrew looms in many's mind for the day, for most it could quite simply be 'Scotland Day' and it would make no difference.I did read a suggestion from someone keen to remove the religious link that a national holiday to celebrate Scotland / Scottishness could be celebrated on Jan 2, which has traditionally been a Scottish Holiday and is next door to Hogmanay. Can't remember where though.

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