Raisin Weekend: then and now

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Image: Rachel Obordo

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.

Image: Rachel Obordo

Academic Families

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.

Raisins

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.

Raisin Sunday

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 Monday

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.

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.

1 COMMENT

  1. When I came up in 1960 there were only 1500 undergraduates and I had been warned that it was important socially to choose a popular “senior man”. The only person I knew was the rugby international David Whyte who was also British long jump champion and we were both in the Scottish athletics team. Like most bejants in my era I did not have a “senior woman” but David was a fabulous choice and opened all sorts of social doors at a time when we were quite the lowest form of life on campus. I gave him a bottle of wine at teatime on Sunday and lugged my receipt (a scantily-clad female shop-dummy) to my four lectures on Monday morning. There was no mass drunkenness and no foam fight – Principal Knox would have thrown a wobbly and sent down the organisers. This messy event came in during the 1990s and started life as a Club-Med wet T-shirt competition.

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