Marianne is from Edinburgh in Scotland. She enjoys travelling and sharing helpful tips with her readers.
The University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland was founded in 1413 making it the third-oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the oldest university in Scotland. It has a reputation for academic excellence. It also has some bizarre and unusual traditions. This article is about one of the most famous of these: Raisin Weekend.
- What do St Andrews students mean when they refer to their mother and father?
- What is Raisin Receipt?
- Why does the university sanction a foam fight every year?
What Are Academic Families?
Academic families are very important to Raisin Weekend, so you need to understand what they are before we move on.
If you meet a student from St Andrews and they start talking about their mum or their dad, it is wise to be cautious. Don't automatically assume they mean their actual blood parents. They might be talking about their academic parents!
Traditionally freshers, known as bejants and bejantines get adopted by students in third year (or above), who they know as 'mum' and 'dad'. Academic parents have an important role in helping students to integrate into life in St Andrews, and meeting new people in different years.
Adoption is not formally organised by the University; traditionally, fathers will ask first years to be their children, while freshers ask their mothers, but there are no specific rules. The students union often organises an event to help any orphans find parents.
Some students take academic families very seriously and whole dynasties can be formed with grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins . . . it can sometimes be a problem. There are also, not surprisingly, occurrences of 'academic incest', i.e. it is not unknown for fathers and daughters, or other family members to get together and enter into relationships.
What Is Raisin Weekend?
The time when academic families are most important is Raisin Weekend, which happens every November.
On Raisin Sunday it is traditional for students to go round to their mother's for a "tea party". This may involve lots of alcohol instead of tea, and silly party games. Children receive 'raisin strings' which are strings with a personal gift attached. After the tea party is over children head over to their fathers for more drinking.
The tradition was that children were expected to give their parents a pound of raisins. However in the modern-day version parents more often receive a different grape-based product called wine.
The following day is 'Raisin Monday' and the children are required to get up and collect their 'raisin receipts' from their fathers. Traditionally Raisin receipts were pieces of parchment with a message in Latin ascribed on them. More recently the tradition has been to provide children with something difficult to carry and embarrassing. Mothers dress their children up in costume. Once in costume children are marched to St Salvators Quad on North Street to take part in a shaving foam fight between 11 am and 12 noon.
Latin Text for Raisin Receipt
"Ego civis (name of parent), tertianus/a (if you’re a third year) or magistrandus/a (fourth year) or alumnus/a (if you’re a graduate) huius celeberrimae universitatis Sancti Andreae, qui (subject the parent studies) studeo, a te, meo/a bejanto/ina carissimo/a qui (subject the child studies) student, unam libram uvarum siccarum accepisse affirmo pro qua multas gratias tibi ago."
History of the Tradition
It is claimed the tradition of Raisin Monday dates back to the very beginnings of the University, although the foam fight certainly seems to be a more recent addition with obscure origins. Raisins were more valuable and rarer in the past. Some sources claim that the tradition of a pound of raisins started with students giving their mothers raisins as a thank you for the festivities. However as women were only admitted to St Andrews in 1876, it is likely that much of the tradition in its modern form dates from the twentieth century, and has changed over time.
Raisin Weekend has not always been popular with the authorities at the University. In 1933 it was banned for three years due to concerns about students' behavior. The ban was lifted in 1936 on the condition that no students celebrated on the Sunday, and no raisins and receipts were exchanged before 8 am on Raisin Monday.
A 1940s article in the Scotsman describes Raisin Weekend as a day when first-year students were obliged to produce a pound of raisins if any senior student demanded them. On receipt of the raisins, the student would receive a receipt in Latin providing them with immunity from other senior students.
In 1950 there was a shortage of raisins in St Andrews, so cigarettes and grapes were used instead.
Reports of Prince Wiliam
In 2001 Prince William was in his first year at St Andrews. He was reported in the press to have been in the foam fight, and pictures said to be of William were published in the newspapers.
However, it later emerged that this was a case of mistaken identity. The photographs were of Mark Willis, a first-year history student, of a similar build to William. He was unrecognizable due to foam. Mark found out he was in the papers when his friends spotted him.
It was confirmed by a spokesman that Prince William did not attend the foam fight. William did participate in some other parts of the Raisin Weekend tradition, but details of which bits and what Prince William did at Raisin Weekend were never provided to the media.
Raisin Weekend has been criticized as a frivolous, silly way for students who should be studying to spend time. The University of St Andrews is often described as a 'bubble'. The small town in Fife can seem somewhat removed from the rest of the world. Images of students covered in foam do little to detract from this impression. Concerns are also raised about the excessive amounts of drinking that some students indulge in.
Others say the festivities are just good fun, and a good way to help new students integrate into life at University.
St Andrews also has a number of other weird and wonderful traditions:
- Not stepping on the initials of Patrick Hamilton on the pavement outside St Salvator's Quad for fear of failing your degree
- The May Dip (swimming in the North Sea in the early hours of 1 May)