Tonight is a celebration of the birth of the man who is widely known as the national poet of Scotland. Robert Burns, or Rabbie Burns, is one of the most famous poets from Scotland and is considered to be a pioneer of the Romantic movement. As the Scottish diaspora sent immigrants around the world, the work of Burns became a touchstone and a piece of home they could take with them. Burns’ work is recognizable to many, including the famous song/poem “Auld Lang Syne” and “Scots Wha Hae”, which served as an unofficial national anthem of Scotland for many years. Despite being born in humble circumstances, he left a huge catalog of poems and songs beginning with his first poem at the age of 15. He was vaulted to celebrity after his collection of poems, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was published in 1786. Despite his fame, Burns never forgot his humble roots and wrote about the life and issues facing those in the lower classes and preserving traditional Scottish ballads and songs.
Friends of the poet, initially celebrated the anniversary of his death with a private supper a few friends and acquaintances. Two centuries later, this developed to in a national event on the poet’s birthday. So how does one properly celebrate Burns Night? There is a proscribed menu and dress for the whole affair. Diners must wear kilts, however, there is some argument as to whether Burns would have worn a kilt. Some argue that despite Burns being a champion of traditional dress, as a Lowlander he would have not worn a kilt. Before dinner, the diners dressed in their kilts are escorted into dine by the sounds of bagpipes. Then The Selkirk Grace is said before dinner. This is a prayer that is said to been written by Burns. It goes as follows:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
The menu is also traditionally Scottish with haggis and whisky being featured prominently. Haggis is a savory pudding made from the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep. This is mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt then cooked in the sheep’s stomach. Despite this less than appetizing description, it is supposed to be delicious. This is served with tatties and neeps, or potatoes and turnips. Drams of whisky are paired with the haggis, and served neat or with a small amount of water. Before the haggis, the dinners begin with a cock-a-leekie soup. Then the haggis is carried in on a silver platter, as the diners stand and clap and accompanied by more bagpipes. Then there is an Address to the Haggis, also written by Burns, where the haggis is lauded as the “great chieftain o the puddin’-race”. During the last line, “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht”, the haggis is cut open. Then it’s time to eat.
After dinner, the toasts begin. A guest reads the Immortal Memory toast, which is in honor of Burns. Then they read the Toast to the Lassies, to thank the women who cooked the meal. This is a personalized toast where a male guest makes reference to the ladies in the group and quotes lines from Burns’ poetry. The women then get a risposte to the Toast to the Lassies. The night ends with all the guests joining hands and singing Auld Lang Syne.
Merry Burns Night to all!