I have to admit that I have never attended a Burns night celebration. Just what is Burns night? Why it’s just the celebration of the birthday of Scotland’s poet laureate, Robert Burns.
Rabbie, as he is known, is probably best known for Auld Lang Syne, which is traditionally sung on Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve as we Americans know it.
Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), also known familiarly as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet and various other names and epithets, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is also in English and a light Scots dialect, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland. He also wrote in standard English, and in these writings his political or civil commentary is often at its bluntest.
He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries, and his influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. In 2009 he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television channel STV.
As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) “Auld Lang Syne” is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and “Scots Wha Hae” served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include “A Red, Red Rose“, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That“, “To a Louse“, “To a Mouse“, “The Battle of Sherramuir“, “Tam o’ Shanter” and “Ae Fond Kiss“.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Burns
Of course, the traditional meal served at a Burns night dinner is haggis, neeps and tatties. So what are these foods?
If you don’t know what haggis is, that may be a good thing. True haggis is illegal in the USA due to some of the organs used in the traditional recipe. The joke is that a haggis is a small furry creature found in the highlands of Scotland. The legs on one side of it’s body is longer than the other side so it can run around the mountain side. Funny, but not true. Click the link above to see what it really is. I don’t know if the haggis we had in Scotland was traditional or not, but I really enjoyed it. Wifey, not so much. Neeps are mashed turnips and tatties nothing more than mashed potatoes. The neeps and tatties are not to be cooked together. And don’t forget the dram of Scotch whisky!
Rabbie so enjoyed haggis he wrote a poem about it. It’s in the old Scot’s language so don’t expect it to understand it. This Wikisource page has the English translation.
“Address to a Haggis” (1787) Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin’-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace As lang’s my arm. The groaning trencher there ye fill, Your hurdies like a distant hill, Your pin wad help to mend a mill In time o need, While thro your pores the dews distil Like amber bead. His knife see rustic Labour dight, An cut you up wi ready slight, Trenching your gushing entrails bright, Like onie ditch; And then, O what a glorious sight, Warm-reekin, rich! Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive: Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive, Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve Are bent like drums; The auld Guidman, maist like to rive, ‘Bethankit’ hums. Is there that owre his French ragout, Or olio that wad staw a sow, Or fricassee wad mak her spew Wi perfect scunner, Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view On sic a dinner? Poor devil! see him owre his trash, As feckless as a wither’d rash, His spindle shank a guid whip-lash, His nieve a nit; Thro bloody flood or field to dash, O how unfit! But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread, Clap in his walie nieve a blade, He’ll make it whissle; An legs an arms, an heads will sned, Like taps o thrissle. Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware That jaups in luggies: But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer, Gie her a Haggis
Pipers welcome guests to the dinner, and then after dinner a ceilidh (dance) begins.
The piping in of the haggis and the Address to a Haggis. (I would turn the volume down if anyone is sleeping or you’re in a public place). The pipes are not appreciated by everyone, sadly.