Handy Histories - Burns Night!

Handy Histories

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WARNING – This post MUST be read with the accompaniment of some Pipes and Drums!

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Rabbie Burns to Scottish people, Robbie Burns to English people, and Rabbi Burns to Jewish people, as the great Eddie Izzard once said, is a Hero of the British Isles. Noted poet and the subject of a night devoted to all thing Scottish.

Robert Burns

This anomaly of the year, is an evening devoted entirely to the flower of Scottish literacy and is well worth a read.
So; pull up a haggis, sit ye self down, pop some sun-cream on if it’s even slightly sunny outside, and embrace the Scot in you – for tonight it is Burns night!

Robert Burns was, and is, a hero in Scotland; and quite frankly he should be in the rest of the world, in this humble historian's opinion. As I sit here listening to “Scotland The Brave” and munching on a deep fried Mars Bar, I can’t think of a better symbol for Scotland and all that she stands for. Robert Burns was a pioneer of the Romantic Movement in the United Kingdom, and his works summon up such vivid images of Scotland, that it’s hard to separate the two. He is revered as a hero in Scotland (his life being almost turned into a cult), to such an extent, that on or around his day of death, Scotland (and now most of the United Kingdom), pay homage to this great man by celebrating with a dinner.

The dinner dates back to at least 5 years after Rabbie’s death in 1796 and it’s form and significance hasn’t changed.

Let’s take a proper look at the dinner itself:

Piping in the Guests:

The piercing sounds of the bagpipes start off the evening where, at the slightly more upper class versions of the dinner, pipers will pipe in the guests as they arrive. They only stop once the whole top table has been filled – so if you’re throwing a night of your own; get your guests seated quickly… the bagpipes were given to Scotland by the Irish as a joke after all.


Chairman’s Welcome:

Then the organiser of the evening stands up, welcomes everyone to the do, and introduces the entertainment – the entertainment being mainly Scotch Whiskey, haggis and the poetry of Rabbie Burns.

The Selkirk Grace:

Then a short, but pivotal prayer is given as to start of the evening – spoken in the true Scotch way the prayer reads:-

“Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it,

But we hae meat and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.”

Crikey…. One would need a drink just after that!

Piping in the Haggis:

Then, the whole assembly stands in order to welcome the most important part of the evening – the Haggis! A grisly yet delicious concoction made of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep all mixed together with spices and suet etc., and then encased in it’s entirety in the stomach of said sheep. The haggis is welcomed like royalty – placed on a silver tray, borne by the chef, a piper and the man who will address said haggis… see below. Whiskey is handed around to ensure the toasts aren’t too boring…

The Haggis

Address to the Haggis:

At this point, the VIP steps forward to address the Haggis – memorising and elaborating the famous poem "To a Haggis"written by the great Rabbie Burns

After this, the VIP spears the haggis and spills out the delights within… the squeamish amongst the party then run, retching from the room. At the end of the poem, the bearer raises said haggis upon high, and is met by rapturous applause.

Toast to the Haggis:

If you haven’t guessed yet, the haggis is quite important! The toast to the haggis is usually done with whiskey and the gathering shout – THE HAGGIS! By this point I’d be bloody exhausted, but the meal is yet to come. The meal tends to be a starter of Cock-a-Leekie soup, followed by Haggis with Neeps and Tatties, followed by either a choccy pud, or a boozy trifle.

The First Entertainment:

Then there will be an engaging and exciting rendition of some of Rabbie Burns’ most noteworthy poems, a selection of his works can be foundHEREhttp://www.robertburns.org/works/index.shtml#alpha

The Immortal Memory:

Then the keynote speaker steps up, and using all the flair and ability he can muster after the whiskey, gives an accurate and engaging history of Scotland’s flower, culminating usually in the embellishment of his effect on nationalism in Scotland… like anyone at this point needs reminding. His last line MUST be: To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!

The Second Entertainment:

Pretty much the same as the first if I’m honest….

Toast to the Lassies:

As all great evenings should, the men toast the wonderful role of women today. Using Burn’s as their muse, the toaster should build to an exciting climax and finish his toast with “To the Lassies!”

The Final Entertainment:

Same as the first and second if I’m perfectly honest…

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies:

The lovely Lassies of the evening get the opportunity to reply to the toast! Again, usually light hearted and fun, as most of us see Scotland itself!

And so, finally, when everyone has had their fair share of the booze, the haggis has been eaten or subtly hidden in a handbag or a napkin, and everything Robert Burns has ever written has been recited several times, the evening comes to a close, with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Phew! I don’t know about you, but I suddenly feel rather inferior as an Englishman… on Shakespeare’s Birthday, I just watched Shakespeare in Love and tried to repress memories of GCSE English… we should work on that.

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