Day in Literature: Burns Night

Today is the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns, celebrated in Scotland and around the world as Burns Night.

Having lived very close to the Scottish border and Burns’ home in Dumfries, I have actually witnessed Burns Night celebrations and attended Burns Supper before and I love the tradition.

Formal celebrations start with guests being greeted by a piper. There’s a welcome speech and the Scots language Selkirk Grace is said before dinner.

Dinner starts with soup, which is usually either Scotch Broth, potato soup, or Cock-A-Leekie. And then the main course: haggis!

This is such an important part, a bagpiper actually welcomes the haggis and accompanies it to the host’s table! The host then recites Burns’ Address to the Haggis:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An cut you up wi ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like onie ditch;
And then, Oh what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that ower his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
Oh how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if Ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

After a whisky toast, the haggis is served with tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips). Afterwards, there are various other courses, including desserts like cranachan or tipsy laird, cheeses and coffee. And of course, more whisky.

Further toasts include the Immortal Memory commemorating the life and work of Robert Burns, the Address to the Lassies and the Reply to the Laddies.

Several of Robert Burns’ works are recited throughout the night, before the company is asked to stand, join hands, and join in a rendition of what is probably Burns’ best-known song: Auld Lang Syne.

I guess I’ll be cracking open a bottle of Scotch tonight. How about you?

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