On the 25th January every year, the good people of Scotland celebrate Burns Night. The object of their celebrations is the poet and lyricist Robert Burns, or, Rabbie Burns, if you speak the language, and on this day, Scottish people drink whiskey, eat Haggis and dance, in skirts, to bagpipes. On the other 364 days, Scottish people may drink whiskey, eat haggis or dance in skirts, but rarely all three at the same time.
So who is Rabbie Burns, what goes on at Burns Night, and what is a haggis?
In a 2009 poll, Robert Burns was voted as the Greatest Scot Of All Time, ahead of other famous Scots, Sean Connery, Groundskeeper Willie and Mel Gibson.
Born on 25th January 1759, Burns is widely regarded as the National Poet of Scotland, and his works influenced other great literary figures, including John Steinbeck, who used the line
"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." as inspiration for his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men, and JD Salinger who used protagonist Holden Caulfield's misinterpretation of Burns's poem "Comin' Through the Rye" as his title and a main interpretation of Caulfield's grasping to his childhood in his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Bob Dylan selected the 1794 song "A Red, Red Rose" as the lyric that had the biggest effect on his life.
Burns also came up with Auld Langs Syne, that song you sing at midnight on New Years Eve but never quite know the words.
Burns 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.
So, never really needing an excuse to drink and be merry, Burns’s life and work are heartily celebrated by Scottish folk,officially, on 25th January every year. Burns night is their highlight of the year, and the night, as an onlooker, is as baffling as Mel Gibson's Braveheart accent.
A bagpiper leads the guests into the dining hall, a toast is made, the Selkirk grace is said and the meal starts with a Cock-a-Leekie broth, a chicken and leek soup.
Then comes the good bit. A haggis is carried into the room, led by a bagpiper, playing Burns’s greatest hits, and everyone stands. This is called Piping In The Haggis. The host will then Address The Haggis, a poem written by Burns to celebrate his appreciation of the haggis. Click the link to view the poem and its translation
At the line ‘His knife see rustic Labour dicht’, the speaker normally draws and sharpens a knife. At the line ‘An' cut you up wi' ready slicht’, he plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly, the "ceremony" is a highlight of the evening.
Everyone then drinks whiskey and dances in skirts.
So this haggis must be pretty special to have a guard of honour, a poem written about how great it is, and for millions of Scottish people to go teary-eyed just at the mention of it. What's it made of? Well. A haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal's stomach. It is considered an absolute delicacy, and is noted for its ‘excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour’. Delicious with mashed potato and mashed swede, this Burns Night, create your own little bit of Scottish Highland. Get yourself a fine bottle of Scotch, pick up some Haggis, and maybe an Irn Bru at The Queen's Pantry, and If you really want to go the whole hog, you can even dance in a skirt (remembering the tradition that nothing is worn under the kilt). Try it. It's like a breath of fresh air.