Anyone who has been a Bejeant(ine) student at the University of St Andrews — Scotland’s First University — will immediately recognise the scene in the photograph above. It is, of course, the annual shaving foam fight in Sallies Quad which marks the end of Raisin Weekend.
For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the excellent article about Raisin Weekend from The Sinner (one of the main student-run websites at St Andrews):
Raisin Weekend is centred around the unique St Andrews tradition of the “academic family”.
Each first year (or at least those who choose to take part – it is not compulsory) is adopted by an academic mother and academic father — who are usually, but not always, in their third or fourth year. In one form or another, Raisin Weekend has been around since the very earliest days of the university. It was, and still is, a “rite of passage” for new students.
On Raisin Sunday, first years’ spend the day with their academic parents. First of all, they attend a tea party with their mother at which, traditionally, not much tea but a great deal of alcohol is consumed. Later, the children are collected by their fathers and the evening is spent in the drinking of yet more alcohol.
In return for their parents’ kindnesses, the first year is expected to give them each a bottle of wine. This is deemed the modern equivalent of a pound of raisins (actually, the modern equivalent of a pound of raisins IS a pound of raisins) which was the usual gift way back in the mists of time when students had a bland diet (has this changed much?).
On the following day (handily called Raisin Monday) and after being woken up, sobered up, cleaned up, and dressed up in outlandish clothes, freshers are presented with their Raisin Receipts. These are written in Latin and is a way of acknowledging the gift of raisins. They always used to be on parchment. Nowadays, almost certainly, the receipt will be something large, embarrassing and cumbersome which has to be carried around.
The gift-giving does not end here. Academic mothers give each of their children “Raisin Strings” with a small gift attached. The gift or “favour” is supposed to reflect the personality of the child. The number of Raisin Strings depends on the status of the mother. It is one string per year of matriculation – blue for first year, crimson for second, gold for third and black for fourth. These strings, with gift still attached, will eventually be tied to the child’s gown hooks.
After all this largesse, children are paraded through the town until they arrive at Sallies Quad. En route, third years, fourth years and graduates of the university (if they are wearing their gowns) can stop any fresher and examine their Raisin Receipt. If they find a mistake in it then they can demand that the Gaudeamus be sung as punishment. Once at Sallies Quad, between 11 and 12 o’clock, a foam fight nearly always breaks out – it’s almost traditional. The striking of 12 o’clock means the end of the fun for another year, and sees students slowly drifting off. Parents perhaps to have photos developed. Freshers, almost certainly, to sleep.
The office windows at Business Improvements on Butts Wynd, directly opposite St Salvador’s Quadrangle (aka Sallies Quad), give an excellent vantage point for watching the proceedings.
It brought back many fond memories from my time in the very same quad one chilly November morning in 1989, although I have no recollection of what I was wearing. I’m sure my academic brothers and sisters made up some kind of collective costume that involved cardboard and sticky-back plastic, but I really can’t remember what it was. I simply remember managing to fairly successfully not get covered in shaving foam, buckets of booze, or worse.
As one of my colleagues pointed out, we now have to watch the shops in St Andrews become suddenly inundated with razors as their stock computers fail to take into account local student traditions. One week a year the town sells out of shaving foam, the next week the stock-check computer orders a million-and-one razors to compensate, as if the entire student population has spontaneously reached puberty on the same weekend!
I had the good fortune of having both my academic parents for both my first and second years. I had the following raisin strings (from my academic mother) and raisin receipts (from my academic father):
- Raisin String: A Barbie doll and a book of chat-up lines (I was her eldest academic son!) — which made for good reading in dull chapel services (!!) and an interesting pastime at the college photocopier (!!!)
- Raisin Receipt: An inflatable American football — my academic father didn’t approve of the sport but bought me it anyway.
- Raisin String: A pair of plastic high-heels (carrying on the theme…!)
- Raisin Receipt: A plastic dinosaur — a protest at my taste in music, which he saw consisted mostly of “dinosaur rock”.
… and you thought that St Andrews was posh and elitist!! (I still think that it’s the best university in the world, though.)