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A saintly idea that today is given the hard sell

ST Andrew's Day celebrations were cancelled in Glasgow on Saturday because of the helicopter tragedy.

In truth, few people would have noticed.

For a country mired in introspection over the independence referendum, its patron saint day passes almost without comment. Yet only a few miles across the Irish Sea, the celebrations in Ireland over its patron saint's day, St Patrick's, are known the world over.

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The St Andrew's Day planned for Glasgow on Saturday was a modest affair. The city's George Square just now is a jumble of fairground attractions, an outdoor ice rink, and hidden among them a temporary white building with bar, foodstall and stage. Over the door was a blue-and-white sign asking passers-by to "Celebrate St Andrew's Day". Inside is a small stage complete with white plastic fir trees that light up, on which musical events, including a pipe band, were planned for Saturday before the cancellation.

Meanwhile, the helter-skelter, spinning tea cups, carousel and ice rink continued to amuse those taking a break from Christmas shopping. Only a few streets away the grim search in the Clutha Vaults crash was continuing, but the Christmas shopping and ice skating went on. That's not to say the people thronging the streets were immune to what had happened, but if Christmas shopping had to be done then cancelling a trip to the city seemed a pointless gesture.

Inside the nondescript white building with its empty stage, food was still being served, including mince and chips, and a new one on me, haggis burgers. All this could be washed down with "warm winter cider". At least St Andrew won't be spinning in his grave over such concoctions, as there are so many relics of St Andrew in churches around the world, there would be very little left of him to spin.

In fact it was relics of St Andrew which were ordered to be taken to the furthest corners of the world that were brought ashore on Scotland's east coast after a shipwreck, which led to the founding of St Andrews the town. So next time you are spending a cold Monday night in St Andrews and it seems like the end of the world, then perhaps that's the reason.

The most significant reminder of St Andrew is the saltire on the Scottish flag. Andrew, according to legend, did not want to be crucified on a traditional cross as he did not feel worthy to be treated in the same way as Jesus. He chose an X-shaped one instead. Centuries later, Pictish king Angus MacFergus rallied his troops to a famous victory saying that clouds forming a St Andrew's Cross in the sky was an inspiration. Nowadays such crosses are common overhead with jet vapour trails as planes head to Glasgow Airport in one direction, and Ryanair jets fly in a different direction to Prestwick Airport which passengers mistakenly believe is also in Glasgow. Islay whisky Bunnahabhain, doing some St Andrew's Day research one year, noted that Andrew is not only the patron saint of Scotland but also of gout sufferers and single ladies. In fact, said the whisky people, German folklore advises single women to sleep naked on the night before St Andrew's Day, as they will see their future husband in their dreams. "Best not to do this if sleeping on a plane, bus or train," the Bunnahabhain lady added helpfully.

Even Prime Minister David Cameron tried to get in on the act this year with a St Andrew's Day celebration in Downing Street - although David himself couldn't make it. The invitation said it was from 5.15pm to 7.15pm. An SNP member defiantly told me: "In an independent Scotland, St Andrew's Day celebrations will last a lot longer than a measly two hours."

Actually a minister planning his Christmas sermon told us that his computer spell-checker changed the gifts of the Wise Men to "golf, frankincense and myrrh", and he wondered if this will lead to the legend being formed that St Andrew actually brought the game to Fife.

Back in Glasgow, the simplistic celebrations are an attempt to use St Andrew's Day, much as Thanksgiving Day does in America, to mark the start of the pre-Christmas shopping spree, and to tempt travellers to what otherwise would be a cold, wet country on the northern edge of Europe. So the reasoning behind St Andrew's Day in Glasgow is sound, even if the execution is a bit ramshackle. And those who look down their noses at mince and chips are probably not the target audience in Glasgow on a Saturday before Christmas.

It seems as though the middle classes like to avoid Glasgow's city centre for their Christmas shopping. They used to boast about flying to New York or Dubai to do their present buying until the exchange rate put a kybosh on that. Now they sit comfortably at home, a glass of sherry in hand, smugly ordering their Christmas shopping online. At most they would drive to an out-of-town mall such as Silverburn rather than take a bus into Glasgow.

Some will argue that it's the poorer, hard-working folk of Glasgow, not equipped with decent broadband and credit cards, who dominate the shops on a Saturday before Christmas, who might actually quite like some mince and chips on a cold day.

But no matter how hard Glasgow tries to sell St Andrew's Day, it will never rival St Paddy's.

There may be a simple truth for why that is. Perhaps a country can only sustain one massive party blow-out a year. In America, it's Thanksgiving Day, in Scotland it is New Year, and in Ireland St Patrick's Day.

St Andrew, no matter how hard the marketing people might try, is never going to match the hedonism of Hogmanay. And for the religious among us, perhaps that's a good thing.

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