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Oatmeal Monday: A Fading Scottish Tradition

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Your ultimate guide at bringing a touch of Scottish and Baird Traditions, both old and new to your holidays throughout the year. We will look at both Highland, Lowland, and diasporic traditions and how incorporating elements of these Scottish Traditions, including historic traditions, into your life can help you protect and pass culture and heritage. Today, we look at recently lost Scottish tradition that harkens back the 1600s, and perhaps early, that promoted and celebrated education – Oatmeal(ie) Monday.

In a time of breakneck change, traditions are a way to find connection and to provide stability. Even traditions that have been lost, can be rediscovered to provide stability and connection. It can help to ground us mentally as well as physically. Traditional foods, and celebrations can be a critical part of living a balanced life.

Scotland is a land of education. In 1413, Scotland found one of the oldest universities in the world, Saint Andrews. A small country, it produces a veritable horde of engineers, scientists, mathematicians, authors, and scholars. One secret to the historical success of Scottish innovation has been the support of the education. Even today, in contrast to other developed countries such as the United States, free public education not a political football. Scottish political parties, both on the left and right sides support the expansion, increase, and development of the public education.

However, Scotland relatively small historic population also limited funding options. In the 1600’s, students were required to bring their own heating fuel and food. When supplies began to dwindle, the universities expected students to return home and replenish their supplies.(Macneill) Thus began a tradition of a long weekend on the second Monday of each month. This occurred with regularity up through the 1885 in most universities. As transportation options increased, it slowly phased out until only the University of Saint Andrews still holds this tradition but for manual staff only.

In 2006, Alexander McCall Smith, CBE, FSRE, and author and a former professor of medical law, recalled this tradition in his own lifetime and the loss of it. He also stated they importance of remember holidays like this:

“Food reminds us of something we tend to forget: we rely on people who work the land, whether it's land on our doorstep or land far away. In urban Scotland, the memory of the land is not altogether lost. A surprising number of people in Scotland have a link with a farm somewhere that was severed only a generation or two ago. In my own case, the link was broken with my grandfather. His father had been a Highland sheep farmer, but my grandfather, and his brother, went off to Edinburgh to study medicine. I am not sure whether they took with them supplies of oatmeal, which is what students used to do when they left the farm to study in places like Glasgow or Aberdeen. The Scottish universities used to have a special holiday called Meal Monday, which was meant to allow students to return to the farm to replenish their sack of oatmeal. That holiday was still celebrated some 30 years ago, when I was a student, although nobody used it to fetch oatmeal.”

Although the need for this holiday, fetching oatmeal, may have passed in 21st century, the idea of connecting to our roots and our traditional foods have not. While pizza, soda, and other foods continue to expand waistlines, stopping for a moment to enjoy traditional foods grounds us to the path. This Monday, stop and enjoy an Oatmeal Monday. Make a bowl of porridge and remember those Scottish students, who for hundreds of years, drudged home to collect more food to make it through the school year. For those interested oatcakes, a baked version of this traditional food, check out the Hebridean Baker’s recipe for wee oatcake men.

While eating, connect to generations of your ancestors who enjoyed this traditional healthy food. Let us know in the comments what we got right and what are your favorite recipes.

Slàinte Mhath!

  1. McNeill, F. Marian (1957–1968). The Silver Bough: a Four Volume Study of the National and Local Festivals of Scotland, Vol. 2. William MacLellan, Glasgow.

  2. Alexander McCall Smith, My life in a single bite, Observer Food Monthly, 20 August 2006

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