Recently, we took a look at the fascinating life of Saint Andrew. This time, as Burns Night is getting closer, it’s about time to write about Scotland’s favourite son and mention some traditions. I am sure you all know of Rabbie Burns and the many touching poems he wrote, but it is always good to honour his memory and remember some aspects of Robert Burns’ life, as well as the customs that accompany the celebration of his birth.
Baby Robert was born on the 25th of January 1759 in Ayrshire, in a small house which is now the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Robert wrote from an early age, with his first attempts at poetry coming when he was still a juvenile. This first attempt was “Handsome Nell“ (1774), inspired by Nelly Kilpatrick, a farm assistant he met during the harvest. It is no secret that women had a significant impact in Burns poetry. Another one was Peggy Thompson, met by teenage Robert Burns at Kirkoswald in 1775. To this girl he dedicated two poems: “Composed In August” and “I Dream’d I Lay“. Burns’ story as a poet continued in a country dancing school, where he wrote four poems to Alison Begbie and after that in Irvine (North Ayrshire) where he met a friend, Capitan Richard Brown, responsible for encouraging Robert Burns to write more and become a fully-fledged poet.
Eventually, Burns married Jean Armour and together they had nine children, three of whom survived infancy, but a crisis in their relationship had echoed with an affair between Robert Burns and Mary Campbell (yes, it was she whom “Highland Mary” was written for). Because of financial difficulties, Burns had planned to move to Jamaica. Presumably, he also intended to involve his lover in this journey (it can be assumed from Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary, And leave auld Scotia’s shore?), but she died suddenly.
Robert Burns’ life ended at the age of 37. His fame and career has been brought by the Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (aka the Kilmarnock Edition), his first published work. He took inspiration from the breathtaking Scottish landscapes, especially of Ayshire, as well as his revolutionary approach and a romantic love for the young ladies. The memory of Rabbie Burns has survived until now, at first, thanks to his close friends. Now, Burns Night is celebrated all over the world by all those people who love Scotland and its great son’s work.
The traditional Burns Supper, held year over year on the 25th January starts with few words from the host of the supper. Depending on the formality of the supper and the number of people, it may also be appropriate to pipe in the guests while gathering. Apart from the welcoming speech, the food is also blessed, usually with the famous 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 let the Lord be thankit.
After the prayer is said, the guest of honour comes. Haggis is brought in on a silver plate, accompanied by the piper, which is called piping of the haggis (if you are lucky enough to have one, if not a CD with Scottish music is a good solution, too!). This moment requires special behaviour, therefore all the invited guests stand while the main course is being carried (usually by the clan chief, if one is present). When it is laid down on the host’s table, the host (or another appointed speaker) recites Burns’ poem, the Address to a Haggis. Traditionally, during the line “His knife see rustic Labour dicht”, the host cleans a knife and at the line “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht” comes, he put the knife into the haggis and open it from end to end.
Before it is eaten, the toast to the haggis must be proposed. So after the Address to a Haggis has been recited, the audience joins the toast made with Scotch whisky (“the water of life”), shouting “The haggis!” Haggis is served with neeps and tatties, which are turnip and mashed potatoes respectively.
There are many other toasts held during the supper. One of them, very common and traditional, is the toast for lassies, where the men gathered for the ceremony thank the women for preparing the supper. The whole ceremony includes a lot of other traditional, Scottish ingredients such as reading other Burns’ poems and listening to the pipe band (or CD with a Scottish music).
We would like to wish you a great time during Burns supper. Enjoy your family and friends gathering full of true Scottish spirit. And don’t forget to wear our traditional outfit! The full kilt or other tartan combinations, all are more than welcome!
Is your Burns Supper similar to this? Please share in the comments!