for 30 November 2022
Today is St Andrew’s Day. Andrew, whose name means simply “a man” (though it can also be glossed as “virile” or “manly”), was the brother of St Peter. Both were fishermen and, as such, were part of the backbone of the local economy. He is imagined in this painting by Artus Wolffurt as an ascetic in his cave, but you can see two wooden beams off to the side — rather out of place in a rocky cave. This is an allusion to Andrew’s death. He was crucified by Rome for being an ardent disciple.
He is shown reading what looks to be his own journal, or something that is penned in Greek or Hebrew paired with a quill and an ink-pot. (Though one wonders how a fisherman would have learned to read and write…) However, the biblical books inspired by Andrew, the Acts of Andrew and the Gospel of St Andrew, are both considered apocryphal and are not much read even by scholars, I gather. Andrew, himself, is a quiet figure in the story of Jesus and his disciples, though Andrew is also known as the First-called, being the first of those disciples. He seems to me to have principally been the sort of solid and steady supporter that keeps the whole enterprise going, like the church ladies or the library volunteers. The people who show up and do whatever needs to be done. His brother might have been “the rock”; but Andrew was the one who was just always there, unquestioning, never needing or wanting the spotlight. I would have liked to read his thoughts, I think.
Today, St Andrew is patron saint of Scotland — among many other countries — and Andrew’s feast day is the national day of Scotland. So, if you are inclined, it is time to break out the bagpipes and plaid kilts and paint thinner… I mean, malt whiskey. You have my permission to skip the haggis.
In much of northern and eastern Europe, St Andrew’s Day also marks the opening of the winter holidays. Now you can start the holiday cleaning and decorating — though I know many of you already have the lights up and the tree decorated. One of the traditions around this day, or on the Sunday closest to St Andrew’s Day, is to begin the Christmas pudding. Traditional fruitcake takes several weeks to mature, during which time you have to feed it more alcohol every week or so. On St Andrew’s Day or Stir-up Sunday everyone who will eat the Yuletide feast gathers to start making it. Good luck will follow whoever takes a turn stirring up the sticky dough. Even toddlers get to have go at it.
There is an intriguing allusion in the Oxford Book of Days (Oxford Press, 2000) 30 November entry. They claim that in Greece St Andrew’s Day is celebrated with pancakes. Or at least failure to make pancakes on his day brings down calumny on your frying pans. I can find nothing else about this, and I had no idea that pancakes were a thing in Greek cuisine. But I wholly endorse any reason to have pancakes for dinner. It also seems a good ritual feast for a work-night — quick, filling and almost infinitely adaptable. For example, I have this roasted pumpkin in the fridge… think maybe there will be pumpkin pancakes and warm cider for dinner, and then perhaps I’ll get started on the tree trimming since I have a fake one now and can put it up whenever — and maybe leave it up until Candlemas if I want.
And so, just like that, tomorrow is December, the end of 2022… my, how time flies…
©Elizabeth Anker 2022