Raisin Monday: Another great British tradition

October 22 was Raisin Monday at St. Andrews University.

It was what?

Why Raisin Monday, of course, the day when, in a centuries-old tradition, first-year students (known as bajans or bejants, and I haven’t been able to find out what the difference is) presents the older students who’ve acted as pseudo-parents with a pound of raisins to thank them. The parents have to give their children receipts to prove that they’ve gotten the raisins, because families are difficult and you never do know when sweet old Uncle Whatsit’s going to say, “Raisins? What raisins? You didn’t give me any raisins.”

The receipt has to be in Latin. And since modern students can’t be counted on to know any more Latin than veni, vedi, vici (and not necessarily that much), the student union website provides a text for them to cut and paste.

Irrelevant photo: Cotoneaster, which is pronounced ka-TONE-ee-aster. not cotton-EAST-er. The birds plant it everywhere, and very lovely it is, even when it’s just a smidge out of focus.

Traditionally the receipt had to be on parchment. These days–what with parchment being hard to get hold of–the more bizarre the thing it’s written on, the better, and as a result the student union advises that “your Raisin Receipt should be of reasonable size and safe: oversize, electrical, stolen or otherwise illegal raisin receipts will be confiscated and you and your kids will face disciplinary action. Please also remember that regardless of type, all raisin receipts will be thrown away before the academic kids enter the quad. If you or your academic child would like to keep their receipt make sure to hold on to it for them while they are in the foam fight!”

The foam fight? We’ll get to that.

Why is raisin receipt sometimes capitalized and Sometimes Not? Because these kids don’t know their Latin. What’s the world coming To?

These days, Raisin Monday takes up a whole weekend (when I last looked, most weekends didn’t include a Monday, but never mind) and first-year students have both an academic mother and an academic father. In the old days, they made do with just a father, because women–as as would have been screamingly obvious to everyone at the time–didn’t belong in universities. You know what women are like. On average, they get better grades than men, and if that’s not enough they eat all the raisins.

Of course you want a source for that. Or try this one if you prefer. 

I won’t cite any studies for that business about the raisins. Everyone knows it’s true.

But times change and traditions evolve. Women have invaded universities. So the first-years are expected to bring first their mothers and then their fathers a “nice gift, “ which is more likely to be wine than raisins. The mother then dresses the child in a ridiculous costume. The father hands over the receipt.

The student union warns that dressing your kid as a condom “won’t impress anyone.” They’re wrong about that of course–the world always contains some dimwit who will be impressed–but the warning’s as well intentioned as it is inaccurate. News articles about the event mention students dressed as bananas, gnomes, robots, and police boxes.

Do I have to explain everything? A police box is an extinct British institution that’s the size and shape of a British phone booth (also rapidly becoming becoming extinct), but blue instead of red. They were introduced in the 1920s and were installed around the country so that people could pick up the phone and call the police when they needed to. If you watch Dr. Who, you’ll know that the tardis is disguised as a police box. If you don’t watch Dr. Who, you have no idea what I’m talking about. 

I may be wrong to call police boxes an institution when they’re objects. I could also be wrong to say that an institution or an object can go extinct. And I could also be wrong to trouble you with copy editors’ quibbles, but I can’t be bothered coming up with a more accurate phrase. Can we move on?

Since the receipts have to be in Latin, we should all probably learn that the Latin for raisins, according to Lord Google, is contritae passo excipiuntur, but that didn’t look right to me and I asked him to translate that back to English. The English was crushed grapes. According to the sample receipt posted on the union’s website, it’s uvarum siccarum–dried grapes. Or possibly dry grapes. I don’t actually know Latin, I’m working from Spanish, a few broken fragments of Italian, and guesswork.

I speak guesswork fluently.  

Not many of us will need to know the Latin for raisins, but if anyone knows the real word, it would make a wonderful gift. Just leave it in the comment box. I’ll owe you a pound of virtual raisins.

The website mentions that the Raisin Monday tradition is about “much more than drinking.”

This is verifiable. It’s also about squirting each other with foam and dressing up as police boxes. So let’s talk about the foam fight. ITV News describes it as the messy culmination of a weekend of festivities involving hundreds of students.

Paloma Paige, association president for the students’ union, explained the tradition this way: “I know some people ran in saying, ‘What is this, what are we doing?’ but nobody really knows and that’s the whole fun of it.

“The foam hasn’t gone back centuries, especially the shaving foam. It’s just evolved throughout the years and this has now become the quintessential part of the whole weekend.”

And there you have British tradition in a nutshell. We don’t know what we’re doing and we don’t know why, but we know it’s a tradition. Hand me the shaving cream.

An unnamed student was quoted as saying, ““I have foam in my eyes –it’s quite painful.”

Shaving cream (or foam, if you like) was invented in the early twentieth century but didn’t become a squirtable, fight-worthy aerosol until the 1950s. St. Andrews was founded in 1413. If anyone knows the year when Raisin Monday started, they’re keeping it to themselves.

59 thoughts on “Raisin Monday: Another great British tradition

  1. I am still confused about the receipt. Who gets the receip and who signs it. But being confused about that suits me fine. You don’t have to explain. And I am up at this hour from insomnia. That has nothing to do with raisins. A foam fight. Why didn’t they think of that when Zi was in school. Not there but over here. Couldn’t it get in your ears? I am glad they did not have that when I was in school. But come to think of it I think they did. But I never participated. The ear thing you know. I will try to go back to sleep now. I had an aspirin, a little bread and some water. Maybe that will help. If not, I may try going in my ear. Night, now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Living in a university town, I read this and thought the locals in St Andrews must dread Raisin Monday/weekend. These days as student numbers have ballooned to make up a something like 40% of the population! St Andrews have 7000 students in a town of 18000!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this line: “You know what women are like. On average, they get better grades than men, and if that’s not enough they eat all the raisins.” I am enjoying your blog so much!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Ellen -you can tell I am feeling better cos I’ve just read your observations on life -had the usual chortle and looked up Latin for raisin – astaphis -I’ll bring you some astaphides on Wednesday but am clean out of shaving foam!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Ellen – you can tell I am feeling better because I have just read all your musings on St Andrews Uni traditions and had good chortle! I had to get a new WordPress password as it is so long since I used the facility -but you’re worth it!
    I found the Latin translation for raisin to be astaphis so I will bring you some astaphidis on Wednesday but I am clean out of shaving foam-sorry!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. My contribution to Notes – “uvam passam” – Google translates that back to English as Raisins. I didn’t check going the other way, because it works in the direction required. Also, if you really want to foam someone, Shake the can – invert the can – open the bottom of the can with one of the old-fashioned can openers (before flip tops) we used to call a Church Key’. All the foam in the can exists toward your target in about three seconds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not sure when I’ll need to know that, never mind why, but I’m convinced it’s information I’ll have a need at some point. And I’m not going to ask how you learned it.

      Thanks for the Latin. It looks vaguely like “pass the grapes,” but maybe it means they were grapes in the past. Translation by guesswork isnt a bright idea, so I’ll stop. Predictive text must’ve had fun with it, though.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Upsetting scholars is awfully tempting, but I really should save that for when I know something about a subject. You don’t happen to know the genuine word for raisin, do you? So far, I’ve been offered two unrelated ones in the comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I doubt a genuine word for raisin exists. Just cobble together a couple of Latin sounding words, it’s what the scholars do. I would make it 3rd declension and feminine though. ……astaphis, astaphidis N (3rd) F is Pliny’s stab at it before the lava got him.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for telling me the name of that berry. There are lots of them around this year. Apparently that means it will be a hard winter.

    Students just do daft things. In the academic year before I went there (which was many decades ago), the students at my own hallowed institution elected a Dalek as president of the Guild of Students. You can probably tell from the use of the word ‘guild’ that it really wished it had been founded in the Middle Ages, rather than at the turn of the last century.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. OMG! I actually went to St Andrews University from 1983 to 1987 and had forgotten all about this. But then again I think I have a four year hole in my memory due to the enormous quantities of alcohol ingurgitated during that period. I do remember being dressed by my ´mother’ as a half nun-half slut. That’s where the memories end unfortunately….Thanks for the brain jolt, Ellen. Scary but interesting. 😬

    Liked by 2 people

  9. So here I sit, mouth agape. Really? This rivals Hasty Pudding at Harvard:). Where on earth do these crazy traditions come from–and how do they have so much staying power? I’m not a huge raisin fan but the foam fight sure sounds like fun!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think raisins have long since been shoved out of the event–or at least moved to the far edges–so you’d be safe.

      Where this stuff comes from is an interesting question. It’s not that crazy stuff doesn’t happen in the U.S.–and I have to assume elsewhere–but somehow it’s less likely to be repeated for several hundred years. A bunch of kids get drunk and move a Volkswagen to the third floor of whatever school they’re enrolled in? Okay, it’s been known to happen, but the next year it doesn’t happen again.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: What people really want to know about Britain, May 2020 edition | Notes from the U.K.

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