Raisin Monday: an evolving tradition

Friday 20 October 2017

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.

Copy of a beautifully worked raisin receipt received by Kay Elder from Kent Kraft (read the translation of the document here )

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.

Framed photo of Kay taken by Kent Kraft, 1966

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.

Passport photo of Kent Kraft 1966

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!

The Raisin Weekend Handbook, 1988 StA LF1117.R2

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.

‘Raisin Monday 1953’ from the Alumnus Chronicle 1998 p 18

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.”

Raisin foam fight by Ben Goulter, 2014

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.

Rachel Hart
Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments

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21 thoughts on "Raisin Monday: an evolving tradition"

  • Andy Heer
    Andy Heer
    Saturday 21 October 2017, 2.06pm

    The custom of senior men and women requiring first years to sing the Gaudie on Raisin Monday up until noon was still going strong in the 1970's.

    • St Andrews Special Collections
      St Andrews Special Collections
      Monday 23 October 2017, 9.21am

      Hi Andy, thanks for letting us know. That is really interesting!

  • James Westland
    James Westland
    Monday 23 October 2017, 2.10pm

    I remember (late 70s) there used to be a tradition for the Semis in 2nd year - Since they missed out on the Raisin Fun, they had this prank where they got the nightwear from females bedrooms and swapped it for nightwear from the males! I absolutely CANNOT imagine that happening now. Does anyone else have memories of this? Jim Westland Geology (graduated 1980)

    • Claire Thompson
      Claire Thompson
      Wednesday 25 October 2017, 6.39pm

      Yes I remember having to knock on doors and ask if anyone had my nightware. We were told which hall of residence to go to. Fortunately I was lucky and was successful on the 3rd attempt. I also remember the male students used to serenade the female residences on the Sunday evening. The ground floor of Hall was evacuated!

    • Pam Powell
      Pam Powell
      Wednesday 25 October 2017, 6.53pm

      I remember that, thankfully they left clues as to where the other half of the swap was so that garments could be recovered! It's making me smile just thinking about the daftness of it all. I don't recall being asked to sing the Gaudie but I still have my raisin strings. Pam Powell (Lister) French and Med History 1977 -1981

    • rwddgoiawn
      Wednesday 25 October 2017, 7.57pm

      Yes, it was horrible! I remembered being scared witless that someone had broken into my room and had rifled through my clothes. Creepy, really. They took more than just a hand-embroidered nightie, and left a sock (!) yet I was told by the bursar to "laugh it off" because it was "tradition"...Never got the nightie back.

  • Rebecca Trengove
    Rebecca Trengove
    Monday 23 October 2017, 7.30pm

    Foam is far more benign than what used to be thrown in the quadrangle. At my bejantine Raisin Monday in 1985 it included a dead seagull and a bucket of scrapings from the Union floor the night before... One of my friends had been armed with water-filled balloons. She let fly and one landed in the very ample bosom of Kay McIver, then Hebdomadar and therefore responsible for student discipline, who was surveying the scene from the steps at the bottom of Sallies Tower.

  • Michael Kay
    Michael Kay
    Tuesday 24 October 2017, 12.36pm

    Even in the 1970s, St Andrews bejants and bejantines (first years) could be required to sing the Gaudie by tertians and magistrands (seniors) at any time before noon, with a nominal forfeit on failure. I was a bejant in 1972 and sang the Gaudie more than once on Raisin Monday morning - by 1975 I was asking new bejants and bejantines to sing!

    • David Kerr
      David Kerr
      Wednesday 25 October 2017, 9.54pm

      I too sang the Gaudie in the 70's - a terrifying experience in those days for a shy bejant - nowadays just give me an audience and I would happily repeat the activity.

  • The Raisin Weekend – The Birdie Doctoral Diaries
    Wednesday 25 October 2017, 11.12am

    […] high number of siblings, and you prepare for what’s to come in Raisin Weekend. You can read about the Raisin tradition clicking here, should you be interested. But if you ever went to St. Andrews, I am pretty sure you know what I am […]

  • John Kewley
    John Kewley
    Wednesday 25 October 2017, 5.57pm

    In the early 1980s it was the 2nd years (who were otherwise left out) who would do all the foam (and other, less desirable, fluids) flinging. The bejant(ine)s just milled around in the quad for a while not knowing what was about to hit them.

  • Fiona Hall
    Fiona Hall
    Wednesday 25 October 2017, 7.07pm

    I don't recall foam fights in the 1970's - silly string perhaps, but as we all wore gowns you didn't want to get them too messed up. I too recall having to sing the Gaudie. My reciepts were an old golf bag and a baby walker - my own boys (27 now) used it when they visited granny as toddlers

  • Shelagh Hewson
    Shelagh Hewson
    Wednesday 25 October 2017, 8.49pm

    By the late seventies, it was tradition for Sallies second year to pinch night attire from University Hall and plant in first year beds as a match making service - female students were meant to go round and ask for them back. I think most wrote off the loss ..

  • peter mackay
    peter mackay
    Thursday 26 October 2017, 10.16am

    in my time (1958-62) the "skite" took place after the Bejant Smoker (which was a revue with acts by thespian inclined bejants held in the Union Diner ). The bejants and bejantines paraded up North street for a nocturnal pier walk .The procession was then ambushed by semis and other ne`er do wells lurking behind the castle walls who built barriers across the cliff top path and then hurled flower and other missiles. This was a good opportunity for manly (soi disant) ) bejants and senior men to throw a protective arm or two around any nearby bejantine(s) and hurry them down the hill to the friendly darkness past the gas works to the pier

  • James Westland
    James Westland
    Tuesday 31 October 2017, 9.58pm

    When i was a student at St Andrews, many years ago now, I remember hearing a tale about the "Haunted Tower", the square one on the Cathedral wall. I think it relates to Raisin Weekend, but might be wrong on that. Anyway, I cant remember much about the details of it but the jist of it is that if a bejantine put her hand through the loophole in the tower when the moon was full, it would be grabbed on the other side (by the ghost presumably). Young women would be dared to try this! Anyway, apparently, and this might be complete tosh, some male student decided to prank a bejantine and he hid on the other side of the tower. When the young woman in question put her hand through the hole, he grabbed it! She was terrified. The male student involved died suddenly a very short time after. So the story goes. Has anyone else heard this tale? Is it all made up? Would love to know! Jim Westland,

  • Robin Dunn
    Robin Dunn
    Tuesday 14 November 2017, 1.56pm

    Robin Dunn (1965): Certainly in the early 1960's the dark pier walk and the hand through the Cathedral wall was well know, and very eerie... We also of course competed to see how difficult we could make it for our bejant(ine) on Raisin Day with a cumbersome receipt: I spent a long time selecting, and preparing, a very large tractor wheel for mine, Peter Knight, who duly rolled it into all his lectures! On Skyte night, we did besiege University Hall, and egged on by the inmates, as a rock climber I quite easily clambered up the wall and was welcomed into the dorm. - until told forcibly by a matron to kindly leave. I apologised and climbed back down, just in time for us all to run off to elude the town constabulary.

  • rwddgoiawn
    Wednesday 15 November 2017, 11.54am

    From Bejantine to Magistrand(e?) the double standards always unsettled me whenever things got out of hand; "pranks" and "high jinks" if you went up from the right schools rather than public nuisance or hooliganism...

  • The Red Gown and St Andrews | Echoes from the Vault
    Thursday 13 September 2018, 10.10am

    […] has looked at a few of the University of St Andrews traditions in recent years – the May dip, Raisin Monday, orientation, matriculation, examinations, Rector’s Installation and graduation. One of the most […]

  • A Raisin to Remember | IncomparaBubble
    Tuesday 30 October 2018, 10.52am

    […] to know more about the history of Raisin?  Click here for more […]

  • National Pie Week: Pie-Off in Special Collections | Echoes from the Vault
    Tuesday 5 March 2019, 10.01am

    […] For one of the recipes we ventured into the more recent past with Lucy Milligan’s St Andrews Festival Cookbook, published by the Festival Committee in 1982. Recipe contributions “came from people with very different but significant links with St. Andrews both as a town and a university”. The recipe for Raisin Pie was given by Lady Douglas. It presumably refers back to the Raisin Monday tradition in St Andrews, which has been blogged about in a previous blog. […]

  • A Raisin to Remember – Alumni Updates
    Monday 29 July 2019, 4.00pm

    […] to know more about the history of Raisin?  Click here for more […]


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