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Author: Subject: Ye Sons & Daughters of Scotland, Burns Night Is Here- Raise Your Glass and Cut the Haggis

Zen Peach

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  posted on 1/23/2008 at 05:55 PM
Below is the reasons for Burns Night, held every January 25th, and below that is the explanations of the ceremony and rituals that go on.


A supper o' the puddin' race
Martin Hannan

GO TO most countries in Europe and you'll find they have a national holiday celebrating the nationhood and the very essence of their country.

Usually it's held on either of the feast day of the patron saint or on the anniversary of independence or the winning of some major battle or other.

But not in Scotland.

It's not that the Scots haven't won the odd battle or two -Bannockburn on 23/24 June, 1314, and Murrayfield on 17 March, 1990, spring to mind -and we do have a patron saint, the first Apostle Andrew, although we have to share him with Greece and Russia.

But in Scotland, St Andrew's Day on 30 November is not celebrated as a holiday, and neither is there a "Bannockburn Day", which would presumably be 24 June, and for that matter not any other day of the year at all is officially recognised as Scotland's national day.

Yet on one night of the year, very many Scots at home and around the world gather to celebrate their Scottishness, their Scottish culture, and the man who perhaps best represents that culture - Robert Burns.

On his birthday, 25 January, and increasingly on many nights either side of that date, there is a vast outpouring of Scottish pride at Burns Suppers held in every corner of the globe.

It's a uniquely Scottish way of celebrating a literary figure -who ever heard of Shakespeare Snacks, Dickens Dinners or Tolstoy Teas?

Some critics attack the occasions as part of the Burns cult but what is so wrong with a cult following for a good poet and marvellous human being?

Contrary to some opinions, it was not masonic clubs which at first kept alive the memory of their famous Brother. Freemasons may have been involved but there were many clubs and events dedicated to Burns which were formed within five years of his death in 1796.

Burns suppers started in 1801 when a group of Ayrshire enthusiasts - some of whom had known the bard personally - ate the original haggis meal still copied to this day, and the tradition has been carried on by the Burns Clubs (also founded in 1801, Greenock being the mother club) which sprung up during the 19th century and now proliferate worldwide.

Apart from the suppers, there have been other and very popular ways of celebrating the bard.

It is reckoned, for instance, that there are more statues dedicated to Burns around the world than to any other poet.

Concrete (actually stone) memorials of him abound. In 1905, the when the Auld Brig of Ayr - associated with Rabbie through Tam O' Shanter - was about to fall down through disrepair - Burns lovers rallied round and it was soon completely restored to its original condition.

This year's celebrations marking the bicentenary of the death of Burns have their precedents. In August, 1844, a National Tribute to Burns -guests of honour were his surviving children - was held in the fields near Alloway. The organisers erected a pavilion for anticipated attendance of 2,000 but in the event a staggering 80,000 people from all over Britain turned up.

But a Burns supper is still the way most people celebrate the immortal memory of Rabbie.

And it's fun! If you've never been to a Burns supper - and despite the hype it is amazing how many Scots have not -you've missed a truly unique occasion.

The pattern is much the same every year but still people come back for more. The love the toasting of the haggis, the reading of Tam O'Shanter, the songs, the other poems and speeches - usually done by known experts from the Burns clubs - and the climatic rendition of the old favourite, Star o' Rabbie Burns, in which traditionally each verse is sung at a higher plane, so that everyone ends up standing on the table.

Yes, some Burns Suppers can be twee, and yes, others can be an excuse for a bevvy and, yes, we can hear macho speeches which would not be out of place in a Soho strip club, though thankfully there are many more civilised mixed suppers nowadays.

Yes, there are occasional problems, but there are also many, many thousands of Burns Suppers - indeed the vast majority of them - where there is warmth and wit and genuine appreciation of the bard.

In these times of worldwide mass-brainwashing 'pop culture' it has to be worthwhile that there is at least one medium for celebrating Scottish culture and traditions.

Because after all, the creeping Anglicisation of 18th century Scotland which he fought against almost destroyed Scottish culture, so without Robert Burns and his astonishing work in collecting and preserving traditional Scottish airs and lyrics, not to mention writing many of our standard songs and poems, there would be no Scottish culture to celebrate.

Here is how you bring Burns Night to life,


Haggis, a Scottish delicacy and main course to a Burns Supper

Burns Night

WHAT is it with the Scots and fire traditions? Nearly every celebration seems to revolve around fire, which makes it pretty ironic that among the only ones that does not is actually dedicated to a man called Burns.

The Burns in question is Robert – Rab or Rabbie – and is none other than our national bard. Robert Burns, the ploughman's son from South Ayrshire who tilled the soil and tugged at our heart with his poems and songs.

Robert Burns, the 18th century poet, whom Scots the world over pay tribute each January

He is remembered on his birthday, 25 January, all across Scotland, the UK and the world, when celebrants gather to give thanks. And how better to praise the great man than to sit down, feast and drink and generally have a good "craic".

Deciding what to eat at the very first Burns Supper was never going to be much of a problem. It's not as if Rabbie wrote reams of Epicurean poetry. There could never have been a moment when the host considered lamb chops or fillets of sea bass. After all, this is the man who wrote the immortal words:

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,"

He was writing, of course, about our proud national dish, the delicately flavoured, oh so sumptuous haggis. Yes, some great people are remembered with medals, others have a library named after them. Scotland's greatest ever poet is remembered by a stodgy meat pudding made from the sheep's pluck wrapped up tightly in a stomach. Yum…

The haggis is only the first part of this great tradition. A proper Burns Supper follows a very strict way of doing things. Whether Moses actually had the programme dictated to him on top of Mount Sinai along with the Ten Commandments is debatable ... but possible.

So back to the supper. A bit like a recipe, it must be prepared properly:

Take one group of guest, and although it is not strictly necessary, it is jolly good form if they dress - or at least bedeck - themselves in some small way, with tartan.

The meal starts with grace – in this case the Selkirk Grace. Short, sweet, effective and to the point (unless you’re a vegetarian of course).

"Some hae meat and canna eat
And some would eat that want it
But we hae meat, and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit"

(Oh, and on the vegetarian issue: Bad food night for them all round.)

After grace comes a wee gless o' something", followed by cock-a-leekie (chicken with leek) soup. Then comes the big moment, the reason you've travelled out in a cold January night, the one, the only parade of the haggis. Presented high on a platter, carried by the proud chef, piped in and given the full "Address to a Haggis" treatment, usually by the host.

When the whole ceremony is completed, including the slashing open of the steamy haggis with a skean-dhu, the dish is served up with mashed neeps and tatties. (The real aficionados substitute whisky for salt and pepper, but you need a stout heart for that particular condiment.)

Once the meal is digested, there is just time to re-fill your glasses and lubricate your voice box in readiness for a song. Take your pick, but make it Burns. After the singing comes the speeches which come thick and fast (if you’re lucky), or long and tedious (if you haven’t picked your speakers well.)

Intersperse these speeches with liberal dose of songs, reminiscences and, yes, more drink.

By now it's late and you will be feeling rather "tired and emotional". The evening is brought to a close when the chairman thanks his guests. Drink. Toasts the chef. Drink. Refill. Toasts the piper. Drink. And so on until everyone staggers to their feet for a rousing rendition of "Auld Lang Syne".

The next bit of the supper tradition is optional, but essential nonetheless to a great number of celebrants. It goes like this:

Attempt to stand up, fall back once, risk knocking over the host's best crystal decanter.

Put both arms into the same sleeve of coat.

Leave ... eventually ... but not before you've told everyone how much you love them.
And I mean really love them, and you're not just saying it because you're drunk.

Taxi home. Fall asleep in taxi. Wake up feeling queasy and over-tip the rather concerned looking driver.

Go to bed fully dressed.

Wake up briefly the next morning and curse Robert Burns, his ilk and anyone stupid enough to hold/attend/even think about a Burns Supper.

Sleep for three days.



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Zen Peach

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  posted on 1/23/2008 at 06:15 PM
Also, there are some excellent concerts and music workshops and more in Glasgow, Scotland this week until Feb. 3rd at the Celtic Connections World Music Festival;

Transatlantic Sessions

Friday 1st February 2008 7:30pm
Sunday 3rd February 2008, 7.30pm
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall : Auditorium

Following the acclaim heaped on BBC Scotland's third series of The Transatlantic Sessions, broadcast in autumn 2007, Celtic Connections presents another glittering line-up of Celtic and American stars, all of whom were featured in the recent programmes.

Since their inception, these concerts have consistently ranked among the festival's fastest-selling tickets, hence the decision this time to stage the show twice, with the same line-up of artists on both nights, although - given the proceedings' traditional element of spontaneity - the set-list may well vary between the two.

from Stateside comes a phalanx of top roots vocalists, including Tim O'Brien, Mindy Smith and Darrell Scott, Joan Osborne, with the Scottish team featuring Eddi Reader and Karen Matheson.

Also assembled for this year's 'ultimate back-porch session' are a mouthwatering dream team of renowned instrumentalists, with Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and dobro king Jerry Douglas (CMA Musician Of The Year 2007) once again acting as musical directors.

Among the remaining US visitors are guitarist Russ Barenberg, bassist Garry West and banjo ace Alison Brown, while accordionist Phil Cunningham, percussionist James Mackintosh, Donald Shaw on piano and accordion, Bruce Molsky (fiddle) and Michael McGoldrick on flutes and whistles complete the Celtic contingent, for what promises to be two very special concerts.




Zen Peach

Posts: 18593
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Registered: 11/20/2006
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  posted on 1/23/2008 at 06:27 PM
The Celtic Connections World Music Festival sounds wonderful - love Celtic music!! The haggis, on the other hand ...


"Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we'll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down..."


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