Raisin Monday: an evolving tradition
Raisin Monday seems to have been a traditional celebration, the day when senior students claimed from their chosen bejant or bejantine (first year student) a pound of raisins and presented in return a receipt in Latin, usually in fine script and with suitable drawings.
The raisin receipt given to Catherine (Kay) Elder in 1966 by Kent Kraft, her ‘senior man’, has remained a treasured personal possession ever since. She has given a copy to be held in the University’s archive until the original passes to us on her death. It is in the form of an illuminated manuscript and is surely likely to be one of the finest receipts to have been produced.
Kay was born in Dundee and grew up in Mexico. She took BSc Honours in Biochemistry and this raisin receipt was given to her as a first year student (bejantine). She went on to do a PhD at University of Colorado Medical School (1971-74) and then post-doctoral research at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London until 1978. She obtained her MB ChB in 1981 and in 1984 joined the IVF team at Bourn Hall Clinic, Cambridge as assistant to Patrick Steptoe. She remains as Senior Research Scientist at Bourn Hall, and teaches at the Universities of Cambridge and Leeds.
Kent Thomas Kraft (1946-2004) created the receipt. Although it is dated November 1966, this was only the beginning: he worked on it steadily throughout the year, and framed the completed work in August 1967. He was born in Germany but raised in New York State. He came to St Andrews in 1966 as a Classics Scholar from Union College, Schenectady, NY, entering St Andrews as a 3rd year student. On his return to the USA, his poor eyesight exempted him from being drafted into the military and being sent to Vietnam, and he graduated from Union College in 1968, Summa Cum Laude as Valedictorian of his class. Kent started his PhD studies in Comparative Literature at Yale University, specializing in Medieval Literature. He became Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Kay, as well as several other classmates from their year, still remember Kent as ‘a brilliant scholar, as well as gifted artist and poet’. Her Raisin Receipt is a much-treasured memento not only of a cherished special friendship, but also of the wonderful privilege of having been a St Andrews student (Thanks to Kay for this background information).
The student reminiscences of D Gray in 1854 might give a hint at the origins of raisin celebrations:
A week or two before the end of the Session the members who were finishing their attendance and about to leave College gave their juniors a Solatium in the form of a treat of raisins and oranges. There were also songs and recitations. The Junior Students did not provide raisins for their seniors: yet there was a tradition that the custom once prevailed.’
In 1895-1900 students recall that ‘we as bejants had to pay our pound of raisins to a Senior on the appointed day after Christmas.’ Another says: ‘There was a quaint custom which took place towards the end of November, on I believe, the old Quarter day, called Raisin Day. On this festive occasion the Divines, Magistrands and Tertians (senior students) rounded up all the bejants (first years) and extracted from each a pound of raisins. In return they gave a quaint receipt in doggerel Latin, the production of which was supposed to preserve the victim from further extractions. Alas, it was not always so.’
Revd Connacher recalled in the 1880s that ‘against the custom of the day one shopkeeper was fully prepared, and no word needed to be uttered save to state cost, which was tenpence, and to express thanks for payment. The presence of the student at his counter sufficed for an order.’ Nowadays it’s the shaving foam that sells out!
Raisin weekend celebrations have evolved over time, as successive generations reinvent the tradition anew: today’s strapline is ‘no place like foam’. The Academic family is a relatively modern invention whereby first year students are adopted as sons or daughters by third of fourth year students. The Raisin Weekend Handbook, 1988 StA LF1117.R2 gives a brief history of the tradition (only back to the 1940s). Up to the 1950s, until noon, any senior man or woman could require first years to sing the Gaudeamus and any mistakes in that or their receipt incurred a fine or forfeit. In the evening there was the bejant ‘skite’, a meal for first years and seniors, preceded by a treasure hunt for unusual objects.
By the 1960s the Skite had been replaced by the Bejant Smoker and Bejantine Tea. Bejantines received raisin strings from their Senior women, made from twisted strands from the trencher tassels, with a trinket attached, representing the character or origins of the child. The string would eventually be attached to the gown – on the right for artists and on the left for scientists. By the late 60s most students acquired both a senior man and women, and the academic family had arrived.
“The main purpose of the academic family is to introduce first years to one another and to third and fourth year parents.”
Video clip from ‘St Andrews – The Friendly University’, 1983
Weekend tea parties by academic mothers and drinking parties with academic fathers became the norm, and costumes and receipts were brought to classes on Monday. Matthew Vernon-Stroud (MA1995) recalls, in his article in the Alumnus Chronicle, StA LF1119.A2A6 (1998) that in his time, ‘the father is presented with a bottle of wine and provides something on which to write his receipt. My own father presented his two sons (with different mothers) with a three-seater settee to carry from Market Street to the Quad. This may not seem too bad, but my father was lounging languidly on it throughout the trip.’ The use of bulky or embarrassing objects as receipts seem to have first occurred in the 1970s.
Let’s face it, once you’ve been out all night with your siblings, then dressed up in silly costumes and covered in shaving foam, there are very few barriers left between you.”
The mix of weekend-long parties with alcohol, culminating in fancy dress with shaving foam makes for an event about which the university has long had to give personal safety advice to students. By 1973 it was estimated that 2500 of the students were out drinking on the Sunday – out of a total St Andrews student population of 3218!
Video clip from 1981
The relationship between town and gown has often been threatened by Raisin weekend and today’s students are urged to remain safe and not to risk giving the student population a bad name. Consequences could be dire. Raisin celebrations were banned for 3 years after the men’s pranks in 1933 went too far. The Virginia creeper in the quad was cut, and there were other unacceptable activities, including an attempt to break in to the women’s residences. It was threatened again in the 70’s and 80’s. Hopefully this year’s raisin weekend, culminating in the traditional foam-fight, now held on the lawn behind lower college hall, will be a happy and memorable celebration for all.
Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments