‘No saint in the calendar’, observed a reporter in the Hong Kong Daily Press in 1886, ‘receives the hearty and regular devotion paid to St Andrew by his flock in all parts of the world.’ And indeed, next to Burns Night, St Andrew’s Day has long since been the key holiday in the annual events calendar of the Scots overseas, offering an opportunity for them to gather and celebrate their Scottish heritage – a tradition that continues to this day. But let’s look at some of the events that have taken place since the mid-nineteenth century, when St Andrew’s Day celebrations began to proliferate globally.
In New York, in 1890, ‘the music of the bagpipes and the pungent aroma of the haggis’ filled the banquet room of the famous Delmonico’s restaurant – the venue of many a Scottish gathering in the city. Scottish songs were sung, and Scottish stories were told, and, as the New York Times pointed out, ‘the names of Wallace, Bruce, Burns, and Scott had only to be mentioned to start a fresh round of cheers or another song.’ (to read the full report of the celebration, click here). In many cities throughout North America similar sentiments were expressed, and balls and dinners were common celebrations as in Montreal (see image top left). Further south in the United States, 150 guests came together for a ball under the auspices of the local St Andrew’s Society in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1886, exchanging greetings with the Winnipeg St Andrew’s Society in Canada. Such greetings exchanged between Scottish clubs were common. In a time before Twitter and Facebook, they served an important function: it gave Scots all over the world a sense of being part of a global community, together sharing – albeit it not in the same place – the celebration of their patron saint. Dinners were an important part of the celebrations, and for many of them beautifully adorned menus were produced. The menu of the 1905 St Andrew’s Day celebration of the Scots’ Charitable Society of Boston came complete with thistle drawing and tartan ribbon (see right and here). By contrast, but no less nicely presented, the menu of the 1896 St Francisco St Andrew’s Society celebration came in the shape of a map of Scotland.
But St Andrew’s Day was not just celebrated in North America. In Hong Kong, in 1886, the annual St Andrew’s Day ball was, as the China Mail noted, one of great sociability, with an illustrious round of 700 guests gathered at the City Hall, which had been superbly decorated for the occasion. The exterior of the Hall, for instance, had been illuminated by ‘gas jets arranged in the form of the familiar Gaelic welcome’, lighting up the front of the building. Inside, in the ante-room, a ‘gigantic St Andrew’s cross’ had been created, while the theatre was set up as a supper room for guests. It was a spectacular sight. At half-past nine, H.E. the Acting Governor the Hon W.H. Marsh arrived at the ball with his wife, and was welcomed by the Hon. Mr Ryrie, the St Andrew’s Society’s President. To learn more about the Hong Kong St Andrew’s Society Ball, and for a few more images of the 1886 ball and others, have a look at this short history here.
Even further afield, in Australia, about 500 guests came together for the 1881 St Andrew’s Day celebration of the Caledonian Society of South Australia in Adelaide. A ‘procession representative of the Society, headed by the chief piper and his assistants, and Mr. John McDonald – all in Highland costume – and swelled by a goodly number of Caledonia’s lassies as well as of her lads, drew up near the Chiefs residence [of the Caledonian Society]’. Once gathered there, a number of speeches were given. One speaker ‘proceeded with the assurance that those of them who were fortunate enough to be “brither Scots” had reason be proud of their native home. … As to Scotland itself, no other country could show within so small a space so many different features of beautiful scenery – whether in the rugged grandeur of the mountains, or the wondrous recesses of the Scottish glens, or the calm loveliness of the lochs.’ And the ‘history of Scotchmen was the history of a gallant race; the Scotchmen of to-day were the inheritors of many noble memories of deeds of gallantry and self-sacrifice (Hear, hear)’.
At the helm of organising balls and other St Andrew’s Day events, now as much as in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were a plethora of Scottish ethnic associations, most notably St Andrew’s societies. The Scots spearheaded the development of these ethnic associations world-wide (if this is something you’d like to learn more about see my book Clubbing Together).
So in the spirit of the work carried out by these societies over centuries, and the enduring Scottish tradition of celebrating the saint’s day abroad: happy St Andrew’s Day everyone!