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Robbie Burns Day

Robbie Burns

Robbie Burns. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

25 January

This day celebrates the birthday of the man considered by many to be Scotland's national poet, their beloved Robert Burns.

Burns was born 25 January 1759 in Alloway, Scotland, the eldest of 7 children. His parents were farmers. In 1788, at age of 29, he published his first book, married Jean Armour, moved to Dumfries and rented a farm. He didn't prove to be a good farm manager, and he got depressed at the state of affairs. He died very young at the age of 37 from rheumatic fever in 1796.

Burns Day celebrations can be formal and earnest, or filled with much hockum and merriment. Some people only know Burns as "the haggis guy" owing to the tradition of serving haggis, which most people feel is de rigeur. Many, though, now deviate from that, and choose to spotlight Scottish nouvelle cusine, or present the haggis as a terrine.

Everyone stands as the haggis is brought into the room, accompanied by music from a piper walking along with it. The haggis needs to be addressed first with Burn's "Address to a Haggis" before it can be served with whisky. After the meal, there is the Loyal Toast, then some of his poems are read out loud. Not everybody actually understands the language his poetry was written in, which is Braids Scots (in fact, in his Ayrshire dialect.) With enough whisky, however, people soon get into the spirit of things.

At the end of the evening, everyone sings Auld Lang Syne, except North Americans who mostly just mouth vague words silently because they don't know much of the song.

The celebrations, often called a "Burns Supper", can be held in both homes and in public places. Some Burns Clubs in Scotland (as of 2005) still do not allow women at a Burns Club meal.

"Ecclefechan Tarts" (butter tarts) are often served as well.

Literature & Lore

Address to a Haggis

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

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 dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright [1]
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn they stretch an' strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, 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 owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad stow a sow,
Or fricasee was mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! See him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak 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!

[1] At this point, the haggis is stabbed for slicing

It's also customary to recite the "Selkirk Grace":
"Some hae meat and cannae eat
And some wad eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit!"


Scott, Kirsty. The lassies who cannot honour Burns. Manchester: The Guardian. Saturday, 24 January 2004.

See also:

All January food days

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Oulton, Randal. "Robbie Burns Day." CooksInfo.com. Published 16 August 2004; revised 31 May 2009. Web. Accessed 03/17/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/robbie-burns-day>.

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