If you go down to the Quad today, you’re in for a big surprise…
On the second weekend in November, St Andrews University undergraduates celebrate Raisin weekend.
On the following Monday, first-years participate in a huge foam fight in St Salvator’s Quad. The whole town cooperates; the police close roads, the university issues safety advice, and older students… well… they mostly take pictures.
Where did this bizarre tradition come from? What’s behind it? Here’s what we discovered.
Sources are hazy on exactly when it started. Some say that the Raisin tradition is only about a century old, while others assert that Raisin weekend has evolved since the infancy of St Andrews University, in the 1400s.
The Museum of the University of St Andrews has a board dedicated to the earlier, more sedate traditions of the Raisin weekend: First-year students (called ‘bejants’ and ‘bejantines’) would be assigned academic ‘parents’ – older students – to initiate and orientate them into the ways of the university and town. Once the bejants and bejantines had been in St Andrews for a few months, they would thank their ‘parents’ for their help by giving them the gift of a pound of raisins.
Students who did not repay their parents in this way were often ‘punished’ by older students. To avoid mistakenly throwing a ‘good’ student into one of the town fountains, it became customary for parents receiving their pound of raisins to write out a receipt in Latin for their academic child. Then, whenever challenged, the bejant or bejantine could produce their raisin receipt to avoid being drenched.
In English, a rough translation of a typical raisin receipt is:
“I, _________ a third year/fourth year/graduate fellow member of this celebrated university of St Andrews who with great natural ability and toil studies _________ gives this to you, _________ my beloved bejant, of tired and invalided mind, from _________ who studies _________ and as thanks for this will accept from you one pound of raisins”
Read the Latin original
In more recent years, the raisin weekend has developed into a slightly more raucous event. Instead of raisins, first years now typically give bottles of wine to their academic parents. The raisin receipt is not longer written on parchment, but on a large object like a huge stuffed animal, or an old piece of furniture that the bejant/bejantine must drag around on Raisin Monday.
And then there’s the foam fight.
Academic mothers create elaborate fancy dress outfits for each of their children to wear on Raisin Monday, and then the children parade through town to St Salvator’s Quad, where all manner of wet substances are thrown around in a huge foamy water fight. As the bell of St Salvator’s Chapel strikes twelve, the festivities end and the fully-initiated first-years head back to their halls to clean up.
Loura Brooks remembers, “the older students in my first year made sure all the showers in Andrew Melville Hall ran cold by using up all the hot water!”
Kirsty Nicol has a fonder memory:
“For the rest of your life the smell of shaving foam will take you straight back to the Quad…and making raisin costumes is great practice of the coming years of kids’ fancy dress competitions!”
Students tend to look back on their first Raisin Weekend with affection, especially in later after they’ve had a chance to wreak havoc on their own academic children.
Here’s a link to one student’s blog post about her experience of Raisin Weekend.
Why not head to the Museum of the University of St Andrews during your visit to find out more about this and other student traditions?
Written and contributed by Beth Craggs