Celebrating Robert Burns

Well, here we are, nearing the end of June, with just under a month left to spend in Scotland.  Time has flown!  And we’ve been spending time living here rather than blogging about living here, which is a good thing.  But we want to preserve more of our memories, so I’m here to tell you about Burns Night.

Each year, Scots celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns on his birthday, January 25th.  This is called “Burns Night” and you typically celebrate it by hosting a “Burns Supper,” which involves eating traditional foods, reciting Burns’s poetry, and possibly other cultural celebrations such as song and dance.  Our kids’ school held a Burns Supper (on the night before, the 24th) and all of us went except Mom, who was at a conference.

The beverage assigned to everyone at the feast was Irn Bru, which I would describe as the Mountain Dew of Scotland.  It’s somewhat of a cultural icon, and recently showed up in Avengers: Endgame.

Table setting for the supper
Table setting for the supper, with the evening’s program

The dinner was haggis, neeps, and tatties.  (That’s haggis, rutabaga, and mashed potatoes.)  That’s pretty much as Scottish as you can make a dinner, and there was shortbread (another Scottish staple) for desert.

Children, haggis, neeps, tatties
Children, haggis, neeps, tatties

The Americans reading this blog are probably thinking something along the lines of, “And…did you have a choice?”  If any Scots are reading this blog, it may surprise them to hear that Americans think that way about haggis.  I will say that I enjoyed the dinner, and ate more than half of my haggis, but its unfamiliarity meant that I did not proceed past that point.  Washing it down with Irn Bru probably did not help, with all apologies to my Scottish friends.  Jesse and Mary Ella ate almost no haggis.  I did require them, however, to try at least a tiny bite.  Here is the result:

There were many excellent performances that evening by the Madras College students, including dramatic recitations from memory of Burns’s famous poem Address to a Haggis (obligatory at Burns Suppers immediately after the procession of the haggis to the table), energetic highland dancing shown in the photo below, and very well-done solo vocal performances of famous Scottish tunes.

 

Highland dancing
Highland dancing

I include here links to some of the songs, so that if you’d like to have your own cultural experience, you can listen online.  These are not recordings of the students; they’re professional recording artists.  Nonetheless, the students that night did an excellent job.

Probably what stole the show was the Madras College Pipe Band’s performance.  It’s hard to underestimate how seriously these students take being in the pipe band, nor how well the final product comes out.  You kind of have to see it to believe it, so here you go:

At the end of the evening, we sang Auld Lang Syne, not because it was New Year’s Eve, but because Robert Burns wrote it.  Turns out there are two verses, which means the Americans mumbled on verse two and pretended to know what it was.  Also, it turns out that at the end of a Burns Supper, everyone (and I mean everyone) gets up and holds hands in a giant circle while singing Auld Lang Syne.  Then there are motions on verse two that involve everyone running to the center, then back out again, and then crossing their arms at a certain point and joining hands again, and more that I don’t remember.  We imitated the people around us and smiled to cover our ignorance.  It was great fun, and an authentic cultural experience.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Judith Berry | | Reply

    Looks like a fun evening. Peckville UMC used to make haggis, fagots. Don’t know if they still make them.

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