Vodka and whisky: spirits of St Andrew

28 Oct 2014
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Achaia, Amalfi, Burgundy, Constantinople, Greece and Lampertheim in Germany also lay claim to St Andrew. As do anglers, fishmongers and fishermen.

Manliness and true grit

And maybe it's on account of the saint's 'manliness' but there are a number of intriguing 'man-catching' superstitions related to his feast day. An old German tradition says that single women who wish to marry should ask for Saint Andrew's help on the eve of his feast then sleep naked that night: then, it is said, they will see their future husband in their dreams.

Another says that young women should note the location of barking dogs on St Andrew's eve for their future husband will come from that direction. On two legs, it is hoped, but maybe this signifies that it is a stranger.

Making it official

In c300 AD, St Rule brought relics of the Galilean saint to Scotland but it was only after Robert Bruce's famous victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 that St Andrew was officially named patron saint of Scotland and the Saltire became the national flag of Scotland in 1385: a manly saint for a rugged, victorious nation.

Kilts in 5

Talking of manliness, it's one thing to walk across Edinburgh's North Bridge in late November in just a T-shirt (daft, yes but...) and quite another to step out into the Moscow November night wearing a kilt and traditional undergarments. The term 'brass monkey' may well have been coined by such a foolhardy Scotsman (in quick retreat no doubt).

Scots of course have travelled far and wide to countries hot and cold and the Scots Diaspora people claiming Scots descent is now estimated at some 40 million. When you add to these, current Scots nationals living and working abroad, it's little wonder that there are a multitude of St Andrew Societies across the globe celebrating Scottish traditions. In Moscow, with its own claims on the saint, Scots and friends of Scotland have a doubly good reason to dance the night away. Their major problem, shared with Societies from Maine to Kuala Lumpur, is procuring an authentic haggis!

A Scottish affair

The annual St Andrew Society of Russia Charity Ball is a traditional Scottish affair with Scottish salmon, haggis (preferably smuggled, otherwise concocted locally and precariously) whisky, Drambuie and shortbread on the table. British and Irish ambassadors often attend, as well as ambassadors from other Commonwealth countries so a lot rests on the haggis. There is ceilidh dancing, for what is a Scots Ball without that? And the teacher is a Russian!

So things might not be quite as they are at home: fewer kilts, more black ties than dashing white sergeants and a pudding that a chieftain (let alone a sheep) might not recognise, but it's 'Caledonia for aye' and it's the spirit that counts (the eternal sort).

Smashing glasses in Glasgow

The St Andrew connection means that many Russian traditions are shared in Scotland Glasgow in particular where there is a Russian Cultural Centre and a handful of Russian Cafes acting as focal points for the 300-plus Russian ex-patriots in the city.

Shared experiences

St Andrew's Day was, according to the Centre Director Julia Atlas, very popular in pre-revolution Russia but, as a religious festival, it was banned during the communist era. It's now making a comeback, offering an opportunity for a get-together with borsch and vodka and singing to the accordion and balalaika. So, on Sunday 30th it will be vodka and smashing glasses in Glasgow and whisky and the St Bernard's Waltz in Moscow.

And for those naked hopefuls on the 29th November: drink the night cap of your intended's homeland (if you know it) and dream well. And if you're waiting for a stranger you can't go wrong with a fine malt: there are eligible Scotsmen the world over!

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