The University of St Andrews has only recently finished celebrating its 600th Anniversary. With such an established University comes a wealth of traditions. Yet, while both parents and children alike never fail to enjoy Raisin Weekend, many among us have no real understanding of the history underlying the festivities. So here’s our guide to the whole messy weekend.
Raisin Weekend is an annual celebration that centres on the principle of an academic family unit. Third year parents adopt Bejants/Bejantines (first years), in order to guide and encourage them through their time at university.
In the earliest days of the tradition, the incoming first year students were allocated to chaperoning senior students, whereas today a rigorous adoption policy is in order – a crazy free-for-all during the first weeks of term – as the responsibility falls upon the parents to seek out their own children.
It is thought that the tradition was born during the earliest years of the University and that its name stems from the gift that the grateful children bestowed upon their loving parents: a pound of raisins. In a time when students would live on a very basic staple diet, raisins were seen as an extravagant luxury.
Yet over the years the gift of appreciation has evolved into something more contemporary, as nowadays it more common to reward the efforts of your parents with a nice bottle of wine.
The Sunday celebrations traditionally began with a tea party at the mother’s house. Nowadays, anything goes. The mums can collect their children at any point during the day and then enforce weird and wonderful games and activities (most likely accompanied by alcohol, not tea) upon them.
Towards the late afternoon the children are passed on to their fathers, for what was traditionally a tour of the bars and pubs about town. Now, the fathers usually host a rowdy flat party to allow for a continuation of drinking – that does mean the dads are responsible for the almost inevitable results.
Raisin strings: Waking up after not many hours of sleep, the children are yet again presented to their mothers. The mum dresses up her children in fancy dress and attaches a raisin string to their outfits. The number of strings present represents the year that the mother is currently in: if in third year, her strings consist of blue, crimson, gold threads, while a black string is added if she is in fourth year. Weaved into the string is small token gift that has been selected to characterise the child who receives it.
Raisin receipts: Of course, in every family, there are naughty children. In order to differentiate between the grateful and ungrateful children, it was custom for parents to write their children a Latin receipt etched onto parchment in acknowledgement of receiving their raisins. Thus, if a child was found to not be in possession of such a written word, they were thrown into a town fountain as punishment. Like the gift of raisins, the embodiment of the receipt has changed with the times. Now it is the job of the father to provide his children with a receipt of considerable size and absurdity, and force them to carry it through town on the way to the foam fight.
No one seems able to pin down the origin of this tradition. All that can be said is that this event is seen by many as the most memorable part of the weekend.
After dragging the raisin receipts through town and disposing of them, the children are ushered onto Lower College Lawn where they take part in a gigantic foam fight with all of the other first year children. Commencing around 11am on the Monday morning, the fight lasts for about an hour, and consists of squirting shaving foam at anyone that comes within an arm’s length of you.