Fantastic traditions and where to find them

Image: Rachel Obordo

Even the untrained eye can draw similarities between Hogwarts and St Andrews: historical buildings fill the town, we have our own quidditch team and who knows what the chemists get up to in their labs? The University of St Andrews even gives Hogwarts a run for its money when it comes to traditions. Getting to grips with these formalities can be a daunting task for new students, so here is an overview of the Chamber of Secrets that makes up the University’s many traditions.

Continuing with the Harry Potter theme, it would only be fitting to have a look at the famous red gown that features in many of the University’s PR shots. All undergraduates are entitled to wear the gown on special occasions, except those in the School of Divinity who have their own dress code: a black gown with a diagonally positioned purple cross. In first year, the tradition is that students wear the gown fully on their shoulders. As they become more accustomed to university life, they can let their hair down and lower the gown to just below their shoulders… how cheeky. In third year, they can position the gown depending on the school in which they study. If you are an arts student, the gown is worn off the left shoulder and the opposite for the science students. The joke, and I do emphasise joke, is that science students are always right. Fourth year requires that your gown is worn completely off the shoulders and just above the elbows: perfectly positioned so it can be dropped from the body at graduation.

Another key tradition is the pier walk, which many students relish as an opportunity to flaunt their red gowns. On Sundays students congregate in Sallies Quad and walk towards the pier near East Sands together. These pier walks (come catwalks) are always an impressive sight, although I must admit that my first and last experience of the pier walk was not exactly enjoyable. Having participated in another St Andrews tradition (namely a wine and cheese event) the night before, I was in no fit state to walk along a narrow wall with choppy waves lapping against it. A word of caution, if you fear heights, have bad balance or a combination of both, walking the pier with last night’s liquids is not a good idea. Instead, you could just opt for a wine and cheese evening, which are popular in the University’s hall of residences. Students come to St Andrews in one of two categories: a red wine and cheese connoisseur or an adolescent with a quickly (or necessarily) developing palette. The wine and cheese are provided for free and are a fantastic way to meet new faces, who won’t be too familiar the next day.

Pier walk

Talking of familiarity, the academic adoption process is one which will enable you to find parents who will have a more enthusiastic approach to drunken behaviour than your biological ones; they will encourage you to drink you and your friends’ body weight in alcohol.  Academic families are formed when senior students adopt First Years, creating a family, and aiding their transition into university life… with the help of family counsellors, Smirnoff and Gordon. In October, we have Raisin Weekend. A fun-fuelled day of challenges and adventures set by the parents. The town is buzzing with excited First Years, completing a series of challenges. The highlight of the weekend must be the foam fight when students gather in Sallies Quad and, as the name suggest, fight with foam. Attention to those amongst us who wear spectacles or contact lenses. You will feel the burn… a pain equivalent to linking psychologically with Voldemort.

Raisin weekend is an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, and although you might not be able to forget it, you are able to cleanse yourself of your sins from Raisin weekend on the first of May by running into the water on East Sands at sunrise. You will emerge, if you are lucky, purified and saintly, failing that, blue with cold. This tradition enables students to cancel out their academic sins before exams start.

The most dangerous sin to commit before an exam would be standing on the PH sign on the pavement outside Sallies Quad, an act that is said to curse you with the consequence of failing your degree. PH are the initials of Patrick Hamilton, who was a scholar and theologian at the University. He was tried as a heretic and burnt at the stake outside Sallies Quad, becoming the first martyr of the Protestant Reformation in 1528. It is an amusing sight when students wander down the street and suddenly, appear to be blown to either side of the initials by some invisible force field.

Instead of writing you a heavy eight volumes, I have decided to impart a small wealth of knowledge (not nearly large enough to merit a vault in Gringott’s) on the subject. I hope that you have found out some more about the ancient traditions permeating this wonderfully magical town and that you have as much fun here as I do.


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