Guide to St Andrews traditions

Students taking part in the pier walk
Students leave for the pier walk at 12pm from the Quad following 11am chapel services

Like many universities, St Andrews has its own unique set of traditions; however St Andrews’ usually gather more attention than most.

Perhaps the most iconic of St Andrews’ traditions is our red academic gowns, worn by undergraduates. They have come to be one of the most famous symbols of St Andrews students. They are gradually worn more loosely each year. In first year, they are worn properly over both shoulders. In second year, the gown is shrugged slightly back, but still covers both shoulders. In third year, the gown is cast off the left shoulder for arts students and the right shoulder for science students. By fourth year they are worn around the elbows, to symbolise being prepared to “shrug off” university life and enter the real world. Academic gowns are worn during another of the University’s traditions, the weekly Sunday pier walk which remains popular amongst students.

Pier walk
Students on a pier walk Photo credit: The Saint

The “PH” is another major feature of St Andrews life, located on the cobblestones outside of St Salvator’s Quad. It commemorates the burning of Patrick Hamilton, a Protestant martyr, at the stake. It is said to be bad luck to step on the initials and that it will cause students to fail all their exams at the end of the year, the only way to reverse the effects being to take part in the May Dip. As a result of this, between classes, crowds of students can be seen parting to avoid stepping on it.

The first tradition that all freshers will experience is the academic families of St Andrews. Academic families can be huge and far reaching, including but not limited to academic; aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, husbands, wives and godchildren – however most begin with an academic mum, dad, and their children. Families in St Andrews begin in the first few weeks of each year, when third years (second years in the case of medical students) will usually approach first years they have met and ask if they wanted to be “adopted” and become their academic children. Families serve as a means to let new students feel at home and give them a source of support from older and more experienced students. Many families are the beginning of friendships that last the entirety of a student’s time at university and sometimes beyond.

Image: Rachel Obordo
Foam fight on Raisin Monday Photo credit: Rachel Obordo

The norm is usually for a first year to have a set of academic parents before the next important St Andrews tradition – Raisin Weekend. This year held on 19 and 20 October, Raisin is one of the highlights of the year and gathers attention from across the UK’s media. Festivities begin on the Sunday morning, when children will meet at their academic mum’s house for a “tea party” (usually involving games, ritual humiliation of first years and lots of alcohol) followed by a house party or pub crawl with their academic dad at night. The next day, first years are dressed in costumes by their mums (my entire academic family was the cast of Toy Story in first year) and a “Raisin Receipt” from their dads (traditionally a Latin text, nowadays usually just a random and often cumbersome object), before congregating in St Salvator’s Quad for a massive foam fight – the most underrated hangover cure there is.

Photo credit: Sammi McKee
The Kate Kennedy Procession Photo credit: Sammi McKee

The Kate Kennedy Procession takes place in April and is another of St Andrews’ most iconic traditions. Organised by the Kate Kennedy Club, this spectacle sees students and locals alike dress up as notable characters from the history of the University and parade through the streets of St Andrews. This is a tradition which started in 1432, with only a brief interruption between 1859 and 1881 when the Principal at the time banned the procession, saying it was “a licentious and debauched affair.” Each year year, a first year member of the Kate Kennedy Club is chosen to play Kate – the central figure of the procession – who rides in her coach (named Victoria) accompanied by the President of the club, who plays the part of her uncle Bishop James Kennedy.

Henry Legg
May Dip Photo credit: Henry Legg

The last major tradition of the year is the May Dip, when all the students of St Andrews gather on East Sands at sunrise on 1 May to wash away the mistakes of the year by drunkenly running into the ice cold waters of the North Sea – for reasons that largely remain unexplained to many. This is the only way to rid yourself of academic sin, including academic incest. The event is preceded by The Gaudie on the evening of 30 April, when students take part in a torch lit precession along the pier to commemorate John Honey, who managed to save five drowning sailors in 1800. Students then stay up until dawn, with both halls and students hosting May Dip parties, before proceeding to charge into the sea. The freezing walk back home is the only time of the year Albany Park becomes the most valuable property in St Andrews.


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