St Andrew’s Day with the diaspora

Picture: Donald Macleod
Picture: Donald Macleod
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Despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government, which passed the St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act in 2007, Scotland has never quite taken our patron saint’s day to heart with the same enthusiasm as Burns’ Night, or even, in terms of an excuse for a dram, St Patrick’s Day.

While it presumably says something about our national character that we choose to venerate a poet with more vigour than a saint, Scots abroad are the exception. For expats, always the most patriotic among countrymen, and those of Scottish heritage who make up the 40 million-strong diaspora, St Andrew’s day events are among the highlights of the well-heeled social calendar.

St Andrew’s Day ceilidhs, all complete with haggis, whisky, pipers and a Highland dress code, and a large number of them sold out, are taking place this year in Amman, Lisbon, Lusaka, Taipei, Delhi, Bermuda, Bangkok, Salzburg, Hong Kong and Muscat.

In Sao Paolo, where the weather in November (well, all year really) is no cause for concern, the Brazilian St Andrew’s Society celebrates with a picnic and barbecue.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, you can take your family tartan to the annual Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans, where the local Presbyterian minister will bless it – a tradition, apparently, that is also upheld from Honolulu to Manila, but not, as far as we’ve heard, in Scotland.

*’s annual Haggis Hunt begins on St Andrew’s Day and runs until Burns night.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, those of Scottish descent in the USA are among the most dedicated to their St Andrew’s day celebrations - their enthusiasm for all things Scottish being such that the saint’s day wasn’t deemed enough to contain it, and the additional Tartan Day, celebrated on 6 April, was created.

Most American events are held two weekends before St Andrew’s Day, as the one prior is Thanksgiving. The St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York (an institution so venerable it only admitted women as members last year) 2011 St Andrew’s Day banquet was it’s 255th, while the Chicago Scots’ 166 th annual ‘Feast of the Haggis’ is Illinois’ longest-running black tie event.

Scots in Moscow, where the Russians will be celebrating St Andrew as their own patron saint, can attend the St Andrew Society of Russia’s St Andrew’s day ball on 3 December, along with 400 other guests, all no doubt hoping to win raffle prizes of flights “home”, plus grouse shooting and a round of golf while you’re there.

It’s all terribly highbrow over in Brussels too, where guests at the St Andrew’s Ball at La Tentation will be greeted with haggis canapés to accompany their champagne, while the St Andrew’s Society of Montreal’s supper, on 25 November, doubles as a débutante ball for the daughters of the Caledonian elite.

The Antipodean approach is a bit more inclusive. In Wellington there’s a free day of Scottish-themed fun at Waitangi Park on 28 November, with pipe bands, Highland dancers and folk music, where attendees are encouraged to dress either in tartan or blue and white, in honour of the Saltire.

The Caledonian Society of Otago’s 149 th annual Highland Games in honour of the occasion, held in Dunedin on 27 November, includes the tossing of the gumboot as well as the caber, and the crowning of the Queen of Heather.

Over in Australia, where 15 million people claim Scottish descent, The Buffs Club in Mount Isa, Queensland is holding a Scottish party on 25 November. Urging locals to “Get ye kilts and ginger beards on and come and party like a crazy Scotsman”, the bar will be laying on haggis eating and Highland Fling competitions, a Nessie hunt (somehow), and of course, plenty of drinks promotions.

If all that sounds too much like good fun for expat Scots who feel that maintaining a dour aspect is the greatest balm for homesickness, those in Poland can take inspiration from how the locals celebrate.

St Andrew is the Poles’ patron saint too, and on 30 November , or Andrzejki as they know it, unmarried girls traditionally spend their evening pouring melted wax through a key into a bowl of cold water, then holding up the hardened wax shapes to interpret the shadows they cast in order to tell their fortune, and listening out for the bark of a dog at dusk to determine from which direction their future husband will come.

We can’t help but think you might be more likely to encounter suitors at a ceilidh though.

There’s plenty going on to encourage Scots on home turf to celebrate too.

Edinburgh castle has been free to visit every St Andrew’s day since the Stone of Destiny was returned there in 1996, and this year the esplanade will be decked out with ice sculptures and fire animations, with the Saltire projected on to the castle walls, and a firework display on 27 November from 7pm.

The National Museum of Scotland’s 26 Treasures Project runs from St Andrew’s Day to Burns’ Night, and displays the work of 26 writers from all backgrounds who were invited to write about one of 26 objects of Scottish historical significance from the museum’s collection. { ||}

The Shindig, a family-friendly ceilidh, will kick off five days of celebrations in Glasgow’s George Square, from 26 November. There will also be an ice rink, a Scottish storytelling zone and a projection of the Saltire on to the City Chambers to oversee it all.

East Lothian, birthplace of the Saltire flag, is holding a series of events including a Saltire-themed race day at Musselburgh Racecourse. On St Andrew’s Day itself, local bars and restaurants will take part in Feast ‘n’ Folk, with special Scottish menus and music.

Calling all Scots around the world

What are your plans for St Andrew’s Day? Tell us where you are and how you plan to celebrate in the comments section below, via Twitter using the hashtag @expatstandrews, or on our Facebook page .

Send your pictures of your St Andrew’s Day shindigs to and the pick of the bunch will go up on the site.