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Key quote "This celebration of Scotland beyond our borders reflects the way we have always looked to the rest of the world to share values and cultures, exchange ideas and develop trade." - Jack McConnell

Story in full IT WAS a date once ignored by almost everyone. St Andrew's Day, 30 November, barely registered on Scotland's cultural and economic radar. Just an ordinary 24 hours in the Christmas run-up.

But today, in an international symbol of Scottish pride never seen before, 67 nations will come together to celebrate Scotland's patron saint. Flags will fly, glasses will be drained and the willow shall be stripped again and again from Papua New Guinea to Montevideo.

The day will begin when a saltire is unfurled on Auckland Harbour bridge in New Zealand - 12 hours ahead - and continue with events in the likes of China, Uganda and Brazil.

And across Scotland's major cities, for the first time there will be co-ordinated activities organised by local societies with the encouragement and assistance of the Scottish Executive. Altogether a record celebration for a once-forgotten patron saint.

To confirm its new status, MSPs yesterday passed a bill to make 30 November a national holiday, while the Royal Mail unveiled the first UK stamp to carry an image of St Andrew.

The global celebration is Scotland's latest export. The Executive underlined this by helping send packs to British embassies with bunting, postcards and information about St Andrew.

As Scottish pride swells across the world, the hope is that trade, tourism and cultural links will increase.

The aim is to market Scottish culture and make our patron saint contribute an estimated 50 million to the economy, as his neighbour St Patrick charitably does in Ireland.

Confirming the new ambition in his St Andrew's Day address, Jack McConnell, the First Minister, said: "St Andrew's Day will be celebrated in countries in every corner of the globe - from the United States to Uganda; from Slovenia to Papua New Guinea; and from China to Argentina.

"This celebration of Scotland beyond our borders reflects the way we have always looked to the rest of the world to share values and cultures, exchange ideas and develop trade."

Scotland's target is to emulate the success in Ireland of St Patrick's Day, which in Dublin alone contributes 54 million based on the average daily spend of the one million visitors the five-day festival attracts each year. The first festival was held in 1996 after the country grew weary of watching huge St Patrick's Day parades in Boston and New York and realised it offered nothing to match.

In Vancouver, St Andrew's Day will see the launch of the Scotland Fund, a charity designed to funnel tens of millions of pounds of philanthropic donations from the successful Scottish diaspora back into Scottish projects.

The charity is modelled on Ireland Funds, which last year raised more than 18 million from affluent Irish-Americans. George Reid, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, will attend tonight's launch.

Canada was chosen to kick-start the charity on account of the 4.2 million residents who consider themselves of Scottish ethnic heritage.

Dennis Canavan, the independent MSP who piloted the public holiday bill through parliament, said he hoped it would generate a change of attitude. He said: "If St Andrew's Day were recognised at home as a national holiday, that would enhance national celebrations and help to promote Scotland on the world stage.

The bill will be a parliamentary proclamation in favour of making St Andrew's Day a national holiday."

However, the question of how St Andrew's Day should be marked has puzzled most, as, unlike, for instance, Burns Night, it lacks a recognisable theme. Tonight, ceilidhs will be held in Edinburgh and Stirling, while Glaswegians will attempt to dance the Gay Gordons on ice. An edible replica of the Stone of Destiny will be unveiled in the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle, then cut by Chris Paterson, the Scottish rugby captain.

Yet what exactly is the correct manner to celebrate a saint who never set foot in Scotland, though his tooth, arm bone, kneecap and some fingers apparently did? It would seem to involve a generous contribution to the homeland.

St Andrew's Day to be national holiday

A BILL to make St Andrew's Day a day of national celebration in Scotland was passed yesterday in the Scottish Parliament.

Independent MSP Dennis Canavan, who first introduced the bill two years ago, received backing from all sides of the parliament. The bill eventually won the support of Jack McConnell, the First Minister, who initially voiced doubts.

It would create a holiday on St Andrew's Day, or on the following Monday if it falls over a weekend. But Mr McConnell has said it should be a substitute for a local holiday, rather than an additional one.

A Holyrood committee endorsed the bill, but said employers would not be obliged to grant it as part of employee holiday entitlement.

Addressing the chamber during a final debate on the bill, Mr Canavan stressed the importance of marking the day as millions of expats around the world do every year.

"If St Andrew's Day was properly recognised at home as a national holiday, that would enhance those international celebrations and help promote Scotland on the world stage," he said.

Tom McCabe, the finance minister, said the bill was "symbolic" and a signal of greater celebrations and awareness of St Andrew's Day.

"We believe that the government needs to take the lead in promoting the celebration of St Andrew's Day," he said.

"We have invested over 300,000 this year on St Andrew's Day events."

Stamp of authority

THE first postage stamp to carry an image of Scotland's patron saint was unveiled yesterday.

The design, depicting St Andrew, is among a collection of four stamps issued to coincide with the national day.

Jack McConnell presented a special framed edition of the stamps to Celtic footballers Gary Caldwell and Kenny Miller at Edinburgh Castle, which is also featured in the collection.

Other iconic Scottish images making up the set include the Lion Rampant and the Saltire.

SLOVENIA:

The Slovenian-Scottish Friendship Society is hosting an event in Ljubljana, the capital, attended by the local mayor, 250 prominent members of the business community and, as a guest of honour, the Provost of North Ayrshire, Drew Duncan. Scottish pipers will be playing while actors will entertain the guests with recitations of the work of Robert Burns in both English and Slovene.

POLAND:

Tradition in Poland dictates that St Andrew's night allows the future marital status of a girl to be predicted. The Scots saint tends to use hardened wax, instead of a crystal ball . One ritual involves pouring melted wax through a key and into a bowl of hot water. The hardened wax is then scooped out of the water and held to the light. The shape it casts on a wall is used to determine the girl's future.

FRANCE:

The Auld Alliance is toasted in whisky at a pub in Paris, appropriately named the Auld Alliance. Patrons who arrive in a kilt tonight are entitled to a free dram, while the menu offers haggis, neeps and tatties. The music is that of the pipes, and there is a competition for the best person dressed in tartan. On Saturday night, the southern town of Montpellier will host a St Andrew's Day ball.

AUSTRALIA

Links to Scotland's patron saint Down Under are marked in different ways.

Traditionally, the Burns Club in Canberra is hosting a special St Andrew's Day event for over 300 guests.

But the Royal Melbourne Hospital is marking St Andrew's Day in recognition of the number of bone marrow transplants which take place between Australia and Scotland.

BRAZIL:

The St Andrew Society of the state of So Paulo begins its celebrations with a round of golf. Formed on 11 February, 1924 by 19 Scots drawn from the textile, engineering, banking and railway industries, the society has flourished over the decades. The first official banquet to celebrate St Andrew's Day was held the year the society was formed . A dinner-dance follows the golf competition.

NEW ZEALAND:

The first St Andrew's Day celebration of 2006 was in New Zealand. The 30th of November dawned first in Auckland where, at first light, a giant saltire, stretching 7 metres by 3.5 metres, was hung from the city's Harbour Bridge by Thomas Robertson, the principal of Kelvin Road School and a member of the Scottish Country Dancing Association.

RUSSIA:

In the city of Pskov, university students take to the celebration of St Andrew's Day with a rigour rarely seen in Scotland. Prior to 30 November, there are lectures on Scottish history and national characteristics. The highlight is a play, St Andrew's Day in Glenbervy, a historical farce set around a laird's estate in the 16th century. Students dress in historical costume and act out the story.

INDIA:

The Scottish Country Dance group in Madras have met each Friday night in members' homes to indulge in their passion for Strip the Willow since the mid-1970s. Tonight, however, the group, under current chieftain, Mrs Lakshmi Ramakrishnan, will hold their annual St Andrew's Day dinner, with the haggis provided by whichever member, relative or family friend has recently visited Scotland.

MALAYSIA:

The Selangor St Andrew's Society was established in 1877 and draws its membership from Scots, descendants of Scots, and Malaysians or others interested in Scottish culture. The highlight of the year, with the possible exception of Burns Night, is the St Andrew's celebration.

This year's event is to be held tomorrow night, when pipers will perform and guests will be dressed in their best tartan.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA:

The British High Commissioner will host a traditional St Andrew's night, with free-flowing whisky and Scottish fare, such as haggis and other delicacies, as a means of celebrating the departure of his deputy and the arrival of his replacement.

The missionary, James Chalmers, or Tamate as he was known, is one of Papua New Guinea's most famous Scots residents.

ZAMBIA:

The Caledonian Society celebrates the date with an annual ball, Scottish fare and an array of whiskies. The music ranges from the traditional skirl of the pipes to local Zambian hits spun in the wee small hours by the resident Scottish DJ. The event, in Lusaka, is the responsibility of Deirdrie Bailey, secretary of the society that unites expats with enthusiasts of Scots history.

THE US:

Almost every state has a Scottish society. The Illinois St Andrew's Society, founded in 1845, will crown its own Heather Queen, who is given life membership to the society and expected to act as an ambassador. In Washington DC a glittering reception will be held at the British Embassy, while on Cape Cod, the Highland Light Scottish Society will enjoy a St Andrew's Day dinner.

 
 
 

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