Burns Night is a traditional celebration that takes place to commemorate the life of Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns, a Scottish poet and lyricist and he is regarded as the national poet of Scotland. He is also noted for his poem and song Auld Lang Syne.
He was born on this day back in 1759. Burns Night, in effect a second national day, is celebrated tonight with Burns suppers around the world and is more widely observed in Scotland than the official national day, St. Andrew’s Day. The basic format starts with a general welcome and announcements, followed with the Selkirk Grace.
Everyone stands as the main course is brought in. This is always a haggis on a large dish. It is usually brought in by the cook, generally while a piper plays bagpipes and leads the way to the host’s table, where the haggis is laid down. The host, or perhaps a guest with a talent, then recites the Address to a Haggis and the haggis is cut open. The event usually allows for people to start eating just after the haggis is presented.
After the dinner of haggis, neeps (mashed turnip)and tatties (creamed potatoes) and a variety of mutton pastries washed down with copious glasses of whiskey, there are toasts. The toasts are usually given by someone who knows something about the poet and his work. The event usually concludes with the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
Why did Burns write about the haggis?
This is an interesting question and I doubt if we will ever know exactly what inspired him to write The Address To A Haggis. What is clear however, is that Burns was presenting the Haggis as being a unique and symbolic part of Scottish identity and culture. Through the power of the spoken word and the imagery of vivid language, Rabbie successfully portrayed a picture in the mind, which has long since become the focal point of the celebration of Burns and Scotland.
When written, only a short time had passed since the Jacobite Rebellion. The French Revolution was alive, and America was in the aftermath of the War of Independence. In Britain, the political struggle between Scotland and England was very much to the fore and Burns wrote passionately on the subject.
So war, political struggle, and the Scottish identity were the catalyst for the poem. The humble Haggis was merely the vehicle used to demonstrate his proud Scottish nationalism, which he does in a light-hearted way. Burns clearly thought that Haggis was a great meal but he also recognised its nutritional value, its popularity and its unusual preparation and presentation. It was uniquely Scottish.
It is therefore easy to see why Rabbie made the link between Scotland’s Identity at that time, and the serving of Haggis to ordinary Scots, as an ordinary Scottish meal. I suppose it was a strange subject to write about but this is the mastery of Burns!
A bit of humor…
He goes to greet the first patient and the chap replies: “Fair fa’ your honest sonsie face, Great chieftain e’ the puddin’ race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm; Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace as lang’s my arm.”
Boris, being somewhat confused (easily done) goes to the next patient and greets him. The patient replies: “Some hae meat, and canna eat, and some wad eat that want it, but we hae meat and can eat, and sae the Lord be thankit.”
The third starts rattling off: “Wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie! Thou need na start awa sae hasty, wi bickering brattle! I wad be laith to rin an chase thee, wi murdering pattle!”
Boris turns to the doctor and asks: “Is this the mental ward?”
“No” the doctor replies, “It’s the Burns unit.”
Unfortunately, we will not be partaking in a traditional Burns night feast this evening because, well, we have no haggis in the house! I do enjoy it and if you look past the ingredients, you could too! Now I know that some traditionalists may gasp when I say this, but we doctor it up a bit. I usually fry up some onion and garlic and then open the haggis and break it up and put it in the pan and cook it up that way. It gives it a little more flavor and a slight crispness.
Don’t knock it until you try it.