You might not realize that today, Nov., 30, is St Andrew’s Day – the Scottish national holiday.
You also might not know that:
• Scotland is about the size of South Carolina but also includes 787 Scottish islands
• The thistle is the floral emblem of Scotland
• Scotland has one of the lowest life expectancies in Europe due, it is believed, to high levels of alcohol and tobacco use and a diet rich in fat (Scotland invented the deep fried chocolate bar).
While it is true that I am English, my maiden name was Scott and several generations ago, my family came from Scotland. My father is definitely of Celtic origin, which is where I suppose I get my short and sturdy build. Our family has always been close to our family branch in Scotland, and I remember many a summer vacation (or holiday as the British say) freezing by a Scottish loch (which is what they call lakes) and trying to eat a picnic while dodging the rain and wind.
In spite of our own family connection to Scotland, I have always been aware of a deep and very real division between the English and the Scottish. For example, many Scottish sports fans would rather support “anybody but England.” The reverse is also true of many English people.
The reasons for this are rooted in history. While Scotland currently comprises the northern third of today’s Great Britain, the Kingdom of Scotland emerged as an independent sovereign state in the early Middle Ages. After centuries of bloody fighting with the English, Scotland finally united with England and Wales in 1603.
Ironically, this was not through battle but through royal succession when Queen Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen) died and the throne passed to her nephew, James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England, Wales and Scotland. This was formalized in 1707s “Act of Union” but Scotland continued to have very different legal, religious and education systems than England.
As recently as 1999, some of this union was reversed when the Scottish Parliament was created with authority over many domestic matters. And in 2006, St Andrew’s Day became a national holiday in Scotland – the Welsh, English and Northern Irish who have to work on this day often grumble about the additional time off enjoyed by their Scottish cousins.
Many Americans have a Scottish heritage as Scots have been settling here since the earliest colonial days. It is estimated that 1.5 million Scots have immigrated to America, with many more settling in Canada (did you know that Nova Scotia means “New Scotland?”). There are more than 100 towns and cities in the U.S. whose names begin with the Scottish “Mac” or “Mc,” plus 31 towns called Scotland, Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow.
In the Southeast U.S., one of the earliest Scottish settlements was Stuarts Town in South Carolina in 1684. Although the Province of Carolina was an English colony at this time, the purchase of two counties for 148 Scottish settlers was negotiated to allow for freedom of conscience and Presbyterian religious practices. In Coastal Georgia, Darien (first called New Inverness) was founded in January 1736 by 177 Highland Scots recruited as settler soldiers by our very own Gen. James Oglethorpe.
Many people confuse today, the Scottish National Day, with the commonly celebrated Burns Night on Jan. 25. This is when the birthday of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns, is celebrated with a traditional Scottish meal and lashings of whiskey, which the Scottish often refer to as the “water of life.” The centerpiece of the meal is the haggis, which is brought into the dining room with great ceremony, accompanied by men playing the Scottish bagpipes and wearing kilts (special tartan skirts under which “real men” are not supposed to wear anything else).
When I was a little girl, my uncle teased me that haggis were hunted and killed in the highlands of Scotland. I was horrified to discover that the truth is much worse than that: Traditionally, a haggis is a large sausage-like tube made from a sheep’s stomach containing the sheep’s heart, liver and lungs (known as pluck) mixed with onion, spices, salt, suet and oatmeal and then boiled. It is usually served with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips) followed by a whiskey-flavored dessert such as a tipsy laird (“Drunk Lord”) or cranachan (a combination of fruit, cream, oatmeal, honey and yet more whiskey).
This traditional Scottish meal, especially the haggis, is an acquired taste that I have never been tempted to acquire, much to the annoyance of my Scottish relatives. In fact, I think comedian Mike Myers is right when he says “My theory is that all of Scottish cuisine is based on a dare,” – particularly when it comes to haggis and deep fried chocolate bars.
Happy St. Andrew’s Day, and God bless America!
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.