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What day is it?

The good folks at Google are marking St Andrew’s Day today with one of their celebrated Doodles.

Although most commonly associated with Scotland, Saint Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople [wherever that might be!?]

There are some very strange customs that are associated with this day, including:

  • If an unwed girl prays honestly to St Andrew the night before (29th November), she will be granted a good and caring husband
  • At exactly midnight, unwed girls should throw a shoe at the exit of the house.  If the tip of the shoe is pointing towards the exit then she will marry a noble and caring person and will leave her house within one year
  • Unwed girls should also peel an apple in one piece and then throw the peel backwards.  The letter which the peel has formed will be the first letter of the name of her future husband
  • It was traditional to eat a single sheep’s head on St Andrew’s Day
  • In Romania the women don’t just pray for husbands, they put 41 grains of wheat under their pillow.  If they dream someone will steal the grains, it apparently means they’ll get married the following year.

The Scottish flag, the Saltire, has the white diagonal ‘cross of St. Andrew’ on a blue background and is widely flown in Scotland. It would be natural to suppose therefore that Scots would celebrate St Andrew’s Day on November 30th in a big way.   THEY DON’T.   TV and radio mention the fact that it IS St. Andrew’s Day but that is about as far as it goes for most Scots.

However, in 2006, the Scottish Parliament passed the St. Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007, which designated the Day as an official bank holiday. If November 30 falls on a weekend, the next Monday is a bank holiday instead. Although that day is a bank holiday under that act, banks are not required to close (and don’t) and other employers are not required to give their employees the day off as a holiday. So it is more of a “voluntary public holiday” rather than a proper bank holiday. So far, few companies have negotiated the day as a staff holiday, though staff in Scottish government departments and a few local government authorities happily get an extra day off.

As every Scot knows, the time to celebrate Scottishness is Burns Night, January 25th. The poet Rabbie Burns holds a place of affection in the minds of Scots all over the world and perhaps this is why St Andrew’s Day passes with relatively little to mark it.

Dentally defective rat?

Conservative senator Nicole Eaton has said in a statement to the Senate that the beaver is no longer fit to be Canada’s national emblem, and should be replaced with the polar bear.  She apparently said that the beaver was “an outdated symbol, and a destructive rodent”.

The polar bear – with its “strength, courage, resourcefulness and dignity” – would be a better fit, she argued.

The beaver has been the official emblem of the country since 1975 but the senator believes that it is time for an an “emblem makeover”.

“Many accuse the dentally defective rat of being a nuisance that wreaks havoc on farmlands, roads, lakes, streams and tree plantations,” she said, adding that a country’s symbols can “change over time”.

“It is high time that the beaver step aside as a Canadian emblem or, at the least, share the honour with the stately polar bear.”

Ms Eaton’s staff told The Globe and Mail newspaper that the senator was a fan of polar bears – she has several photos of the Arctic beast in her office. However, a member of Parliament who represents Manitoba said removing the beaver would ignore the animal’s impact on Canada’s history.

“Polar bears are cool but the beaver played a pivotal role in the history of Canada,” said New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin. “It was the relentless pursuit of beaver that opened the great Northwest.”  Early French and English colonists worked and lived in the country’s far reaches to trap beavers for their pelts.

Removing beavers entirely from Canada’s national symbols would be labour-intensive: a stone beaver sits on top of the entrance to Parliament and appears on Canadian nickels.

Michael Runtz, a natural history professor at Carleton University told Canadian television that the national emblem is not just a question of history.

“They are like Canadians. Their demeanour is very pleasant,” he added. “Polar bears inspire fear.”

Thank goodness we don’t have this problem in the UK.  All the countries in Britain have their own patron saint and floral emblem:

England, the Rose and St. George, Scotland, the Thistle and St. Andrew, Ireland the Shamrock and St. Patrick and Wales, the Daffodil or Leek and St. David.

I really can’t see this changing anytime soon – or being debated in Parliament for that matter!!!

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