The beginning of the ecclesiastical year on the Sunday closest to November 30. Advent is the season before Christmas – In Western Christendom, four Sundays are included. In Eastern Christendom, the season is longer and begins in the middle of November.
Nov Tue 30
St Andrew’s Day (Christian )
Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and Russia. The flag of Scotland is the Cross of St. Andrew. St Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was originally a fisherman and became the first Apostle.
Saint Andrew’s Day is November 30.
Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and Russia and was Christ’s first disciple.
There are around 600 pre-Reformation churches in England named after Saint Andrew, in contrast to Scotland’s handful of churches of all denominations named after the saint. Nevertheless, it was Scotland that adopted Andrew as its patron – probably because, Saint Andrew being the brother of Saint Peter, it gave the Scots considerable political leverage with the Pope in pleading for help against the belligerent English!
In Greek Andrew means ‘manly’. St. Andrew’s biographical details are simple: he was born between AD 5 and AD 10 in Bethsaida, the principal fishing port of Palestine. His parents were Jona and Joanna; his brother was Simon. Jona, along with his business-partner and friend Zebedee and his sons James and John, was a fisherman.
Andrew had a strong sense of curiosity. He would have gone to the synagogue school at the age of five to study scripture and then astronomy and arithmetic.
Later, on the banks of the Jordan, Andrew met John the Baptist: he was the first disciple and the first apostle. It was he who brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus before the feeding of the five thousand.
According to the apocryphal ‘Acts of Andrew’ he is said to have travelled to Asia Minor and the Black Sea. In the city of Synope he is believed to have suffered great hardships and the house he was in was nearly burnt down. He returned twice more to Asia Minor and Greece, even travelling as far as Hungary, Russia and to the banks of the Oder in Poland.
In Greece, Andrew forced his way through a forest inhabited by wolves, bears and tigers. Finally, in Patras, he was given the choice of being offered as a sacrifice to the gods or being scourged and crucified. By his own request the cross was diagonal. He, like his brother Peter, felt himself unworthy to be crucified on the upright cross of Christ.
He hung for three days on the cross, fixed not by nails but by rope round his hands and feet. Even in his last agony, he continued to preach. So ended the life of Saint Andrew. What happened to his body, however, is the next part of the story.
Andrew’s bones come to Scotland
How did the bones of Saint Andrew come to Scotland? There are two versions – the first a pious fable. In this, Saint Regulus (later known as Rule), a Greek monk and keeper of St Andrew’s relics at Patras, was told in a vision to set hide some of the relics until further instruction. A few days later, the emperor Constantine removed the remaining parts of Andrew’s body to Constantinople.
An angel again appeared and told Rule to take the bones he had hidden and go west by ship. Wherever they were shipwrecked he should lay the foundations of a church. The angel foretold how pilgrims would travel to this shrine from all parts of the West to receive health of body and soul.
Saint Rule’s ship was driven ashore by a storm onto the headland of Muckross in Fife, into the little village of Kilrymont (later St Andrews). Halfway between the Castle and the harbour is said to be Saint Rule’s cell.
At the time Saint Rule landed, the Apostle appeared to the Pictish King, promising victory to his enemies. In gratitude, the King confirmed the dedication of St. Regulus Church to God and Saint Andrew.
This is, one suspects, an arresting fable that telescopes more mundane and complicated historical fact. A second (and probably more reliable) explanation says that the bones were brought to St Andrews about 732 AD by Acca, Bishop of Hexham (near Newcastle), a well known venerator of Saint Andrew.
Around the year 832AD (although some say 735 AD) the Northumbrian King Athelstane is said to have camped at what is now Athelstaneford in East Lothian, before his battle with the Picts under King Angus mac Fergus. Saint Andrew appeared to Angus in a dream and promised victory. During the battle, a saltire cross was seen in the sky, putting heart into the Scots (note, this was not jumbo-jet vapour trails or even necessarily a cloud formation!).
Athelstane was killed at the ford over the Cogtail burn. In gratitude, Angus gave gifts to the church of Saint Regulus at St Andrews. He then ordered the Cross of Saint Andrew to be the badge of the Picts.
However, this foundation story of a more stable kingdom in what would become Scotland is almost certainly modelled on the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great’s victory at the Milvian Bridge, Rome in 312 AD at the banks of the River Tiber when he became convinced of the power of Christianity by seeing the symbol of Christ (the Chi Rho – the Greek letters Χ Ρ, the first letters of ‘Christ’) in the rays of the setting sun.
Whatever route the bones of Saint Andrew may have taken, we do know that in AD 908, the only bishopric in Scotland was transferred from Abernethy (the royal residence) to St Andrews. Subsequently, the town rapidly became famous as a pilgrimage site.
Increase in popularity
During the reign of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret, devotion to Saint Andrew became nationwide and Andrewmas was made a national festival. Scottish soldiers fighting in the Crusades honoured Saint Andrew as Patron of Christian Knighthood.
In 1318 St. Andrew’s Cathedral was dedicated and became known as the Canterbury of the North. It was the largest church in Scotland before the Reformation. In 1411 Saint Andrew’s University was founded and sixty-one years later, the See of St. Andrews was raised to Metropolitan status.
At the Reformation, the great Morbrac (reliquary) which carried the bones of the saint and weighed one third of a ton, was destroyed. The street games, the festivities, the fireworks and the processions with evergreens, which used to take place on 30 November, were banished for ever.
Andrew’s significance to the Scots
What, in practice, did Saint Andrew mean to the Scots? When, in 1603, the new King James I and VI tried to make one united flag, the Scots resisted because the saltire cross had been given an inferior position in the design. Scottish ships at sea persisted in flying the Saint Andrew’s Cross.
The Union Jack was the official flag from the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. But, while the red Lion Rampant is the proper Royal flag for Scotland and the Thistle the national badge, official heraldic decrees state that the national flag and arms of Scotland are the Saint Andrew’s Cross.
Saint Andrew is patron of Russia and Greece but has special significance for the Scots. The Declaration of Arbroath (1320), written by Scottish clergymen to Pope John XXII, was an appeal to the Pope against the English claim that Scotland fell within the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York.
The Declaration argues that the Scots were a distinct people who had long enjoyed the protection of Saint Andrew, brother of Saint Peter. Saint Andrew is described in the Declaration of Arbroath as “our patron or protector”.
At the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling in 1314, the Scottish soldiers had worn the white cross of St Andrew on their tunics and before the battle began they knelt in prayer, invoking his protection.
Four years later Robert the Bruce, at the dedication of St Andrews Cathedral on 5 July 1318, placed a parchment at the High Altar expressing nation’s thanks to the saint.
William Wallace’s battle-cry was “St. Andrew mot us speed” (May Saint Andrew support us). Prior to the disastrous Scottish defeat at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, a great many Saint Andrew’s crosses were made at the Boroughmuir in Edinburgh.
The Blue Blanket flag gifted to the Trade Guilds of Edinburgh also bore the Saint Andrew’s Cross, while Scotland’s largest ship, the Great Michael, was full of Saint Andrew’s Crosses, as were the Honours of Scotland.
Mary, Queen of Scots’ forces carried the saltire at the battle of Carberry; many Jacobite flags in the ’45 Uprising also displayed the saltire. It soon became incorporated into the official badges of Scottish regiments. There was even a Saint Andrew coin issued by Robert II and a bawbee Scots halfpenny marked with the same cross.
Movement of relics
In modern times, the bones of Saint Andrew once more returned to Scotland. In 1879 the Archbishop of Amalfi in Italy (where the bones had been brought in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople) sent to Edinburgh what was believed to be the shoulder-blade of St Andrew.
At St Peter’s, Rome in April 1969, Pope Paul VI gave another relic – part of the skull of the saint – to Cardinal Gordon Gray, at that time Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. “Peter greets his brother Andrew,” were the words of the Pope to the Archbishop. The relics of the Apostle are today displayed at St Andrew’s altar in the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Mary in Edinburgh. At St. Andrew’s Cathedral by the shore at Patras, Greece other parts of the skull of Saint Andrew are cherished in a place of honour.
While it is permissible to be sceptical about the authenticity of relics, there can be no doubt about the value of an annual celebration of St. Andrew as representing strength and curiosity, two qualities which are by tradition very much part of the Scottish psyche.
Saint Andrew was a ‘networker’ – a fisherman but also the one who brought the Gentiles (non-Jews) to Jesus and preached about him as far as the Black Sea. The saltire cross is a multiplication sign – reminding us that it was Saint Andrew who brought the little boy and his loaves and fishes to Jesus. Perhaps Saint Andrew was good at shaming those who had hidden their food to share it with the 5,000 others?
Dec Thu 2
Hanukkah (Jewish )
Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights and marks the restoration of the temple by the Maccabees in 164 BCE. Hanukkah is celebrated at roughly the same time as Christmas, but there is no connection at all between the festivals.
Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It dates back to two centuries before the beginning of Christianity.
The festival begins on the 25th day of Kislev and is celebrated for eight days. In the western calendar Hanukkah is celebrated in November or December.
The word Hanukkah means rededication and commemorates the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom.
The festival marks the phenomenal victory of a group of Jews called the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, the most powerful army of the ancient world.
At the end of the three-year war, the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the temple.
When the Maccabees rededicated the temple, they discovered a single cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest still intact.
When they came to light the eight-branched temple candelabrum, the menorah, they had enough oil to last only a day.
But the menorah miraculously stayed alight for eight days. This became known as the miracle of the oil.
Lighting the Menorah
It is because of this miracle that candles are lit from right to left during Hanukkah.
On day one, the first candle is lit; on the second night Jews light two candles, and the pattern continues. By the eighth night, all eight candles are alight. They are lit from a separate candle, the Shamash or servant candle.
During Hanukkah Jews follow simple religious rituals in addition to their regular daily prayers from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book.
They recite three blessings during the eight-day festival. On the first night, they recite three and on subsequent nights they say the first two.
The blessings are said before the candles are lit. After the candles are lit, they recite the Hanerot Halalu prayer and then sing a hymn.
Traditional Hanukkah foods
Potato pancakes and deep-fried doughnuts are traditional Hanukkah treats.
Fried food in particular reminds Jews of the miracle of the oil and the candles that burned for eight days after the Maccabees won back the temple in Jerusalem.
Dairy products are often eaten during Hanukkah. The tradition has its roots in the story of Judith (Yehudit) who saved her village from the Syrians by making an offering of cheese and wine to the governor of the enemy troops.
Judith encouraged the governor to get drunk. After he collapsed on the floor, she beheaded him with his own sword and took his head back to the village in a basket.
When the Syrian troops discovered their governor had been beheaded, they fled.
It is customary to play games at Hanukkah. The most common game uses a dreidel and is a popular way of helping children to remember the great miracle.
A dreidel is a spinning top with a different Hebrew letter inscribed on each of its four sides.
The four letters form an acronym that means: ‘A great miracle happened here.’
The stakes are usually chocolate coins but sometimes pennies, peanuts or raisins are also used.
Each player puts a coin in the pot and takes it in turns to spin the dreidel. The letter on which the dreidel stops determines each player’s score.
Other games include trying to knock other players’ dreidels down and trying to spin as many dreidels as possible at any one time.
The exchange of gifts or gelt is another old and cherished Hanukkah custom that dates back to at least the Middle Ages, possibly earlier.
Gelt is the Yiddish term for money. Modern day gelt includes saving bonds, cheques and chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.