University of St Andrews traditions

Tuesday 22 August 2017

From the curse of Patrick Hamilton’s initials to the May Dip, the University of St Andrews has many unique traditions and superstitions, some as old as the buildings themselves. As a new student these might seem odd, but they quickly become part of your St Andrews life.

Red gowns

The most famous tradition associated with the University is the red gown worn by undergraduate students (except those in the School of Divinity whose gowns are black with a diagonal purple cross). The red gown was introduced post-Reformation as compulsory `school uniform’ to students as young as thirteen, as a way of preventing them from illicit drinking in public houses. Today the gowns are no longer compulsory and most students wear them only on special occasions, for example formal dinners in halls of residence, University Chapel services, and the Pier Walk.

Students wear the red gown in different ways depending on which year they are in – according to the “academic strip tease”. First years wear theirs fully on the shoulders, then in second year off the shoulders. Third years wear the gown off the left shoulder if they are arts students and the right shoulder if they are studying science. A fourth year student will wear the gown off both shoulders, across the elbow.

Pier Walk

On the 3rd January 1800 John Honey, a student of the University, rescued members of the crew of the Janet of Macduff which had run aground off the East Sands of St Andrews.

In the absence of a lifeboat, he had fellow students tie a rope to his torso and swam out to the troubled vessel 5 times, bringing a man with him each time he returned. On his final trip, the ship’s mast broke and fell heavily upon his chest. Despite this, he made it the beach where he collapsed in exhaustion. Honey died at the age of 32 in Perthshire, whilst serving as a Church of Scotland minister: his death was attributed to unresolved health issues following the accident on board Janet.

On 30th April students process by candlelight, led by a piper, to the East Sands where they lay a wreath at the site of the shipwreck. This tradition is called “The Gaudie”.

The Gaudie is also reflected in the weekly tradition of the Pier Walk – when students, adorned in their red gowns, process after Chapel toward the east and walk along the length of the historic pier.

The first Chapel service and Pier Walk, on the Sunday at the end of Freshers’ Week, is always the busiest and is a great way to end the week before the Martinmass Semester begins.

The curse of Patrick Hamilton

‌The PH initials set into cobblestones outside the Sallies Quad mark the spot where Patrick Hamilton was burnt at the stake in 1582 for his Protestant beliefs. According to tradition, any student who steps on the PH will be cursed to fail their degree.

May dip

The only cure for Patrick Hamilton’s curse is to participate in the annual May Dip. At sunrise dawn on the first of May, students make their way down to East Sands and collectively run into the North Sea.‌

Academic families

A spontaneous tradition where third and fourth year students can adopt first year students as their “children” to act as mentors and introduce them to student life.

Raisin Monday

This ‘mentoring’ culminates in Raisin Weekend (21 October to 22 October 2017), when children are entertained by their parents before being dressed in fancy dress by their academic parents, and sent to gather in St Salvator’s Quad for the annual Raisin Monday foam fight.

Raisin Weekend dates far back into St Andrews’ history, and is so called because children traditionally gave their academic parents a pound of raisins to thank them for welcoming them to St Andrews.

In return academic fathers would present their academic children with Raisin Receipts to take to the Quad for the foam fight. They were traditionally written on parchment. Whatever object the receipt is, it should have the following Latin phrase written on it:

Ego civis (name of parent), tertianus/a (if a third year) or magistrandus/a (fourth year) huius celeberrimae universitatis Sancti Andreae, qui (father’s degree subject) studeo, a te (child’s name), meo/a bejanto/ina carissimo/a qui (child’s degree subject) student, unam libram uvarum siccarum accepisse affirmo pro qua multas gratias tibi ago.



A final tradition occurs after many students’ final undergraduate exam – where their friends will meet them as they leave the location of their exam to shower them with cold water.

This invigorating tradition is a great way to celebrate completing your final undergraduate examination period!

Category Student experience

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