AS 2014 draws to a close, St Andrew’s Day offers a timely opportunity to pause and reflect on the momentous year that this has been for Scotland.
In Scotland we are proud to be known as an outward looking nation. This year, the eyes of the world have also been on us like never before. We have welcomed friends and visitors from across the globe, to enjoy the ‘best ever’ Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, MTV Europe Awards and our second year of Homecoming.
This year has also marked a significant chapter in Scotland’s constitutional journey.
Participative democracy has shown itself to be alive and well in our land – with a record 85 per cent turnout in September’s Independence Referendum. This firmly demonstrated that people engage with politics when it is relevant to their lives and when they feel that their opinions count.
It is an exciting time in Scotland’s modern day story. On November 30, we also look back, to remember the history of our patron saint.
Saint Andrew was a Black Sea fisherman, and later one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Crucified by the Romans on a cross in Greece, according to legend, some of his relics came by sea with a monk to Fife – to what is now St Andrews.
The Saltire, or Saint Andrew’s Cross, owes its origins to the same Andrew. He reportedly appeared in a vision to a Pictish king in 832 AD, on the eve of a battle against Northumbrians in East Lothian.
An X-shaped cross – a Saltire – appeared on battle day in the sky overhead, and the Picts were victors. The Saltire was later adopted as Scotland’s flag and national emblem.
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Andrew was first recognised in 1320 as an official patron saint of Scotland at the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath.
Just as Andrew was from overseas, we live in a rich and diverse country, and St Andrew’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the variety of cultures, faiths and ethnic origins that comprise Scotland. I am delighted to be attending the Black and Ethnic Minority Infrastructure Scotland (BEMIS) dinner in Glasgow on St Andrew’s night - the finale to their multicultural Homecoming celebrations.
For all who call Scotland their home – and for those of Scots ancestry (an estimated up to 50 million) and Scots at heart across the world - St Andrew’s Day is the ideal focal point to celebrate all that is great about our country.
From Beijing to Rio, people will be remembering and marking the national day as they do Hogmanay and Burns Night. There are ceilidhs in China, dinners in Canada and a reception in Brussels to mark our special day.
From our thriving contemporary culture and rich heritage, to our world-renowned food and drink and warm welcome, we have much to shine the spotlight on.
In 2014 we are marking St Andrew’s Day with our biggest-yet programme of events in Scotland. Over 200 attractions are offering special entry on and around St Andrew’s Day, Historic Scotland are giving away thousands of free tickets through a special pre-registration scheme, and the Scottish Government is supporting a series of regional events.
I heartily encourage everyone to explore all the ways to get involved.
The St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act was introduced by the Scottish Parliament in 2007, empowering employers to mark the national day in lieu of a local holiday.
Council staff in Angus, Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Renfrewshire are participating this year, as do Scottish Government staff annually.
St Andrew’s Day is an important jewel in Scotland’s Winter Festivals, but as thoughts turn ahead, we have much to look forward to. The Hogmanay celebrations will herald in Scotland’s 2015 Year of Food & Drink, while Burns Night provides a much loved occasion for communities, schools, organisations and individuals at home and abroad to remember our national bard.
Through all of Scotland’s Winter Festivals, the Scottish Government encourages people across Scotland and our friends from around the world to join us in celebrating all which makes Scotland unique.
This has been an unforgettable year in Scotland’s history, but the future in terms of our creative, cultural and ancestral heritage looks just as bright.
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