Scotland has a long history of education. Way back in 1413, it founded one of the oldest universities in the world – Saint Andrews. This small country has churned out tons of engineers, scientists, authors and other smart folks over the centuries. One secret to Scotland’s legacy of innovation has been its strong support of education. Even today, unlike in places like the US, free public education isn’t political football there. Political parties across the board want to expand and improve public schooling.
But Scotland’s historically small population also limited funding for education. In the 1600s, university students had to bring their own heating fuel and food. When supplies ran low, the universities expected students to go home and restock. This started a tradition of a long weekend on the second Monday of each month for students to travel home and replenish. This “Meal Monday” thing kept up regularly at most universities until 1885. As transportation got better, the practice slowly faded away, until only St. Andrews kept the holiday, but just for manual staff now.
Back in the 1600s, Scottish university students lived in basic dorms and had to supply their own fuel for heat, usually firewood or peat. Their diet was also pretty sparse – mostly oatmeal that they made into porridge. This lifestyle stuck around until the late 1800s. As one Edinburgh student from back in the day put it: “the liberal arts, sciences and theology were cultivated on oatmeal, with an occasional beer on Saturday night.”
With students’ family homes far from the city campuses, the occasional long weekend let them travel home to restock food and other must-haves. Originally, and up through 1885, these Meal Mondays happened on a monthly schedule. Edinburgh had them on the first Monday of every month. But by 1896, Edinburgh only had one official Meal Monday holiday, on the second Monday of February.
Meal Monday kept being a big tradition at Scottish universities in the late 1800s and 1900s, with Glasgow and Aberdeen also having the day off. As one Scottish author who was a student 30-some years ago said, it was still celebrated then, though nobody was using it to actually go fetch oatmeal anymore. By the early 2000s, Scottish universities had done away with the official Meal Monday holiday for students, though St. Andrews still has it for manual staff.
So that’s the scoop on Meal Mondays in Scotland! Whether you celebrate by making a big batch of oatmeal on February 12th or not, it’s a fun bit of Scottish academic history. Try my recipe to fuel all the wee workers in your family!
Servants Hall Oatmeal
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 tsp, cinnamon
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 tsp honey optional
- Combine oats, milk, water, salt, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
- Simmer uncovered for 3 to 5 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
- Divide into bowls, add honey if desired. Add your favorite toppings, a splash of milk.