Today, the 30th of November, is St Andrew's Day. This morning I received an e-mail from a friend in America, which took me some time to understand. He went on at some length about how wonderful it was that we had designated a day in the year to celebrate the game that we had given the world. I was both amused and touched by the lad's ignorance. Indeed, I find it impossible to reply. Why, after all, should he not continue to live with this delightful delusion? Why should I tell him that St Andrew's Day is simply that day designated in the saint's day calendar to St Andrew who happens to be the patron saint of Scotland? Surely it is a much better thing to celebrate St Andrews as the township that gave golf to the world?
There is no reason why anyone should be familiar with the saint's calendar and there equally no reason why the average European should be familiar with what constitutes Thanksgiving in America and what it celebrates.
Some years ago I spent a couple of hours listening to the reminiscences of a very old former clubmaker who, for ten years in the 1920's had spent his summers tending a small golf club in upstate New York. Those were his halcyon years when he had spent eight months a year in the States and four months at home here in St Andrews.
The club he served closed each year after Thanksgiving day when everyone, players and their families and friends, gathered for a turkey dinner when trophies were presented with much festivity. The members also annually presented my old friend with his return ticket home as well as a 'gift' for his attentions sufficient to maintain his popularity in the pubs of St Andrews throughout the winter.
It became clear to me that he thought that his American friends were giving thanks for the game of golf. He held this up as evidence that no people were more devoted to or grateful for the game. He did in fact go to his death believing this and marvelling at it. I certainly didn't have it in me to put him right on the matter, but even had I attempted it I doubt if I could have persuaded him of the real reason for Thanksgiving. In retrospect I am not sure that he was altogether wrong.
Thanksgiving in the US celebrates the safe deliverance of the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Ho! in Maine. This is a day, the fourth Thursday in November, set apart for 'recalling the goodness of God in blessing the Pilgrim Fathers with their first good harvest in 1621 and, by association, by thanking God for all his bounty.' It is surely in the 'bounty' bit that my old friend became confused about the celebrations at his Golf and Country Club in the 1920's. If golf and the harvest became confused in his mind then, even the most cursory examination of the US golf industry suggests that they are today one and the same and that the annual harvest remains good and increasingly bountiful.
What St Andrew's Day and Thanksgiving Day have in common is Pilgrims. Soon after St Regulus or St Rule, depending upon you Latin or Greek disposition, brought the bones of St Andrew to the northern shore of Fife in Scotland, folk started journeying from all over Europe to see them. Throughout the centuries, these pilgrims increased in numbers and, on their return home gained a lot of credibility, and in many cases absolution of their past sins from having been to St Andrews, as the township which had come to be about the repository of the bones, came to be known.
It is a credible argument that these pilgrims from all over Europe brought their ball and stick games with them and that these games coalesced into the game that came to be golf. But having no wish to get involved in the fatuous debate about the origins of the game -- far less in the constipated theological debate on the authenticity of the bones -- it has to be conceded that even if golf was not actually born in St Andrews, the place was certainly its cradle and nursery. There is certainly no question that it is its alma mater and, for every serious student of the game's theosophy, it is a place of pilgrimage.
Considering the closeness of Thanksgiving Day in the US and St Andrew's Day in Scotland, I would like to suggest a merger. I suggest a summit meeting with Mr. Bush and The Pope here in St Andrews to arrange calendar tweaking. Mr. Bush could put a bill before congress on a holiday date change and the Pope could issue a bull reorganising the saints' days. This compromise date could be designated St Andrews Golf Thanksgiving Day and be a holiday celebrated throughout the world. It would be an international diplomatic coup for Mr. Bush and, from the standpoint of the Catholic Church, it would go some way to redressing the Reformation in St Andrews and contribute to the reunification of the worlds' churches.
It would also put paid to confusion in the young and mentally taxed.
|| 1 - DECEMBER 2003