Today is a big day in Scotland and for those of Scottish descent around the world. For today is January 25, the birthday of Scotland’s beloved national poet, Robert Burns.
Also known as Robbie Burns, Rabbie Burns (my personal favorite), The Ploughman Poet, and the Bard of Ayrshire, Burns is one of Scotland’s most celebrated sons. You may know him best as the man who first penned the words to ‘Auld Lang Syne‘. And I’m sure you have heard the poetic verse: “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June”. Perhaps you are familiar with Burns’ narrative poem, ‘Tam O’ Shanter’. Or, maybe you have a fondness for one of Rabbie’s other 713 works (possibly more?), which range in topic from death and war, anguish and greed, from religion and politics, to love and sex (and many other topics in between). There is certainly no shortage to choose from. *Although archived and no longer updated, I discovered a BBC page dedicated to Burns that lists 716 poems and songs. It allows you to search for works by title, season, theme, and year written. Well worth a look if you are at all interested in Rabbie’s poetry.
Every January 25, Robert Burns is celebrated with the annual Burns Night Supper. I have never had the good fortune to take part, but oh how I would love to!
So, what does a Burns Supper involve? Fun, I would imagine!
In a traditional gathering, after the guests are welcomed, the evening’s festivities commence with ‘The Selkirk Grace’ (written by Burns).
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.
This short prayer is followed by the exciting piping in of the haggis, a procession that includes the bagpiper, the chef, the haggis itself -which is carried in on a silver tray, and the individual who will deliver a rousing reading of ‘To a Haggis‘ (also by Burns). After this address to the haggis, a toast to the haggis is given, followed by the meal – traditionally a soup (such as cock-a-leekie), haggis, neeps and tatties, and something sweet (such as cranachan or clootie dumpling). And, of course, there is whisky!
The meal is followed by entertainment centered around Burns’ work, recognition of his accomplishments and a toast to his memory, a ‘toast to the lassies’, and a ‘reply to the toast of the lassies’ (rather cheeky, I would guess). Finally, the evening concludes with the joining of hands as guests sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
Truly, doesn’t this sound like fun?
To those of you who celebrate Burns Night, I would love to hear about some of your traditions. How do you celebrate at home? Do you gather with family and friends? Or do you prefer to celebrate in a more public venue? Do you make foods other than the ones I named? I look forward to reading your comments!
I invite you all to join me next time, when I will look deeper into the life of this man -this extraordinary literary figure- who captured a nation and the world.
Happy Burns Night!