Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Happy Burns Night!

On 25 January, Scots all over the world gather together to honour the short, yet prolific, career of their national poet, Robert Burns, because 25 January is his birthday. Also known as the Ploughman Poet (because amongst other jobs he held, he had once worked as a ploughman) Burns was, and still is, Scotland’s favourite poet. This is mainly due to the fact that he wrote in the same way that Scottish people spoke. He came from a humble background, but his natural talent was to make him a national hero.

Burns’ poetry was inspired by the stories his mother’s old maid told him when he was a child. Indeed, the poet is quoted as saying, ‘She had the largest collection in the county of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, kelpies, elf-candles, wraiths, giants, enchanted towers, dragons and other nonsense. From this grew the seeds of my poetry.’

Burns’ Suppers, which form the focus of Burns’ Night celebrations, can be either casual affairs or something much more formal. However, whatever they’re nature, the basic format varies very little. On arriving guests should be offered a drink (usually whisky) and once they are all seated at table, the chairman makes his welcome. This is followed by the Selkirk Grace and then the banquet begins.

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Burns’ Supper Menu

Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Cullen Skink

Haggis, Neeps and Champit Tatties

Sherry Trifle

After the first course has been cleared away, the haggis will be piped in – the chef carrying it to the table, accompanied by a piper playing a stirring Scottish tune – and the chairman, or another esteemed guest, will give the Address to the Haggis. Reciting the words of Burns’ poem with gusto, the speaker plunges a knife into the haggis at the words:

‘An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch.’

The address over, the guests toast the haggis, and the health of the poet, with a wee dram of whisky, naturally. When the meal is finished, the chairman (or esteemed guest) makes the first speech – The Immortal Memory – which pays tribute to the life and work of Robert Burns. This is followed by the Toast to the Lasses and is a light-hearted tribute to all the ladies present that should be humorous, but never unkind. An elected female member of the party then gives The Lasses Response. The formalities over, the rest of the night is spent enjoying the songs and poems of Burns, as performed by the guests themselves.

Of course you can find out more about Burns Night and Robert Burns himself in my wee book, Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave.

And if you're celebrating Burns' Night tonight, have a good one!

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