Today is St. Andrew's Day, the national holiday of Scotland. St. Andrew's Day is celebrated on the Catholic feast day of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland (and Greece, Romania, Russia, and Constantinople).
St. Andrew's Day in its current form is relatively new, dating back to 2007, when the Scottish Parliament declared St. Andrew's Day a non-mandatory bank holiday. The three-day weekend has quickly bloomed into the commercial kickoff of the Christmas season.
Of course Edinburgh wasn't about to let an opportunity for another festival pass. So now, all the Christmas hoopla launches with fireworks the Thursday before St. Andrew's Day weekend and keeps rolling right through Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year's festival. The festivities include a carnival with rides, a German Christmas market, a Highland Christmas market, and various concerts, mostly centered on Prince's Street Gardens.
St. Andrew's Day weekend has an added bonus: all Historical Scotland attractions are open to the public free of charge.
However, St. Andrew's Day is not without its controversy: the resolution that established St. Andrew's Day as a bank holiday also required that all public buildings fly the Saltire, aka the Cross of St. Andrew, aka the Scottish national flag.Buildings with more than one flagpole are required to fly the Union Jack as well.
Hey--did you notice? The Union Jack is a combination of St. Andrew's Cross (Scotland), St. George's Cross (England), and St. Patrick's Cross (Ireland). Here's a diagram from Wikipedia.
Clockwise from top-left: St. Andrew's Cross (Scotland), St. George's Cross (England), St. Patrick's Cross (Ireland), Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland (after 1801), English-version Flag of Great Britain (1707-1801), unofficial Scottish version of the Flag of Great Britatin (1707-1801).
(On a side note--what about Wales?)
Anyway, the St. Andrew's Day flag controversy comes from the fact that all government and military buildings in Scotland are required by law to fly the Union Jack at all times, and only fly the Saltire if they have a second flagpole. This includes Edinburgh Castle (which is both a royal residence and a regimental headquarters), seen as a quintessential symbol of Scottishness, but cursed with only one flagpole.
The tin-foil hat says that's by design, so that the Union Jack flies from the highest point in Edinburgh throughout the year--and also from Holyrood Palace, overlooking the Scottish Parliament. Some have tried to take matters into their own hands by raising the Saltire at the Castle--none have succeeded. Instead, the Scots have had to content themselves with celebrating St. Andrew's Day as they celebrate their other national holiday: with haggis, neeps, tatties, and ceilidh dancing.
We're going to a ceilidh tonight, in fact. Stay tuned for pictures!