As I mentioned before, in this first St Andrews traditions post, there are a number of different St Andrews traditions which really influence on what it’s like to be a student at the university. None of the traditions are compulsory, and almost all of them really add to ‘the student experience’. The most infamous of the traditions is Raisin Weekend and the academic families, which really does almost need to be seen to be believed; I promise I’ll post about that (and my experiences as an academic child and as a mother!) at some point soon. However, today I wanted to tell you all about the May Dip.
The May Dip is an annual tradition for everyone in the town of St Andrews, although it’s mainly the student population who participate. In order to celebrate May Day or Beltane, at sunrise on the 1st of May the students gather on the beaches of St Andrews to run into the North Sea as the sun rises over the cliffs. That’s pretty much it.
The history of the tradition is unclear (as Beltane is a pagan fire festival, which obviously suggests jumping into a large body of cold water…) but it’s necessary for many students, as performing the May Dip is the only way to alleviate any of the curses of St Andrews. (These include committing academic incest, standing on the PH sign outside the quad and wearing your academic gown wrong amongst others… I know I’ll need to explain all of this too!) Dunking your head under the freezing north sea at approximately 5.30am is not hugely pleasant, but it does make you feel as though you’ve been washed clean of any academic sins or misdemeanour’s from the year so far, and when you’re there with your friends, it is good fun.
Usual practise dictates pulling an all-nighter before the May Dip – there are numerous parties which mean that many participants have been drinking before they run into the sea. I can confirm this is a good idea; May Dip-ing whilst sober is far harder than after a few warming drinks! Students usually start to gather on the beach at around 4am. It used to be that the vast majority of students would dip from the smallest of the three St Andrews beaches – Castle Sands – as this is where the sun rises over the cliffs and the castle for an amazing sunrise – but in recent years, the beach has been closed due to the unstable cliff face above. Dipping from East Sands is now more common, but I must admit, it’s not as scenic as walking down the cliff steps to see the numerous bonfires, the singing madrigals and the Christian Union giving out cups of tea and hot chocolate.
Anyway, regardless of the choice of beach, at a point which someone has decided is ‘official sunrise’ students will start running into the sea. A dip isn’t considered ‘official’ unless you duck completely under the water – but believe me, no one stays in the sea very long! Most people dip in swimsuits and have towels waiting from them as they run out again – but there are occasional folk who get completely naked for their dip – I have had to avert my eyes a few times! If you’re in your final year, you may find that you end up ‘double-dipping’ – going into the sea twice as friends chuck you into the water, just to make sure that you will pass your degree that year!
The May Dip is so much fun; the anticipation and parties the night before, seeing the sunrise at the beach with fellow students and then the exhilaration from running into the freezing cold North Sea, before a long walk home for a hot shower and bed! It’s crazy, it really is – but the four times I did it, I loved it. It’s just another thing which makes St Andrews unique!