Burns Night is an annual tribute to the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. It was originally organised by his close friends and family after he died as a memorial, but it is now a country wide event that people hold themselves, with traditional Scottish food, music and Burn’s works. Burns night falls on January 25th every year, which is the birthday of the Scottish Bard. Many restaurants in Scotland and around the world honour the traditional celebration with themed evenings.
The poet, also known as Rabbie Burns, is famous for his creative literary works and wrote more than 550 poems and songs before his death in 1796, at the age of 37 after suffering from rheumatic fever. Some of his most well-known works include “A Red Red Rose” and “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”.
He influences writing and culture to this day over 200 years after his death. His poem in the Scots dialect Auld Lang Syne is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight. By extension, it is also sung at funerals, graduations and as a farewell or ending to other occasions. The international Scout youth movement, in many countries, uses it to close jamborees and other functions. John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men takes its name from a line of Burn’s poetry in “To a Mous”, which read “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’men/ Gang aft agley”.
On 25 January 1759 poet Robert Burns was born, an event which is celebrated annually by Scots in their homeland and across the world as “Burns Night. Scotland’s National Bard entered the world in a clay biggan at Alloway. Although born into a poor family, Burns’s father enrolled him at a local school and the poet’s love of language was born. Robert Burns is Scotland’s best-loved bard and Burns Suppers have been held in his honour for over 200 years. Among many Scots, his best know poems are Auld Lang Syne and Ode To A Haggis.
Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, to William Burnes, a poor tenant farmer, and Agnes Broun. Robert Burns was the eldest of seven children. He spent his youth working his father’s farm, but in spite of his poverty he was extremely well read – at the insistence of his father, who employed (1772) a tutor, John Murdoch, for Robert and younger brother Gilbert. At 15 Robert was the principal worker on the farm and this prompted him to start writing in an attempt to find a suitable outlet for his circumstances.” John Murdoch taught Burns and his brother Gilbert in a school founded by their father and neighbours. Murdoch introduced Burns to the works of Alexander Pope, schooling him in English, French and Latin. In 1774, Burns wrote his first song, ‘Handsome Nell’, for Nellie Kilpatrick.
Burns wrote in a light “Scots” dialect which is not Gaelic but an English dialect spoken in the Scottish Borders and Lowlands. The Scots language (the Scots leid) refers to Anglic varieties derived from early northern Middle English spoken in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland it is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic traditionally spoken in the Highlands and Islands. Scots is also spoken in parts of Northern Ireland and border areas of the Republic of Ireland, where it is known in official circles as Ulster Scots or Ullans.
Burns moved around the country, eventually arriving in Edinburgh (1786), where he mingled in the illustrious circles of the artists and writers who were delighted at the “Ploughman Poet.” In a matter of weeks he was transformed from local hero to a national celebrity, fussed over by the Edinburgh literati of the day, and Jean Armour’s father allowed her to marry him (1788), now that he was no longer a lowly wordsmith.
Robert Burns died July 21, 1796 at the age of 37. His death occurred on the same day his wife, Jean, gave birth to his last son, Maxwell.
The Burns Night Supper is an institution of Scottish life: a night to celebrate the life and works of the national Bard. Suppers can range from an informal gathering of friends to a huge, formal dinner full of pomp and circumstance. The highlight of the entertainment on Burns Night is the “Address To a Haggis” which is quoted below.
Guests should normally stand to welcome the star attraction, The Haggis, which should be delivered on a silver platter by a procession comprising the chef, the piper and the person who will address the Haggis. A whisky-bearer should also arrive to ensure the toasts are well lubricated. During the procession, guests clap in time to the music until the Haggis reaches its destination at the table. The music stops and everyone is seated in anticipation of the address To a Haggis. Enjoy Burns Night!
Rabbie Burns, we salute you!
ODE TO A HAGGIS
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan 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,
You 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
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
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
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad 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,
An’ dish them out their bill o’fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,
Gie her a Haggis!
Boris Johnson, the Mayor and Great Buffoon of London, is visiting an Edinburgh hospital. He enters a ward full of
patients with no obvious sign of injury and greets one.
The patient replies:
“Fair fa your honest sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding race,
Aboon them o’ you take your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm,
As langs my airm.”
Boris is confused, so he just grins and moves on to the next patient.
The patient responds:
” Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.”
Even more confused, and his grin now rictus-like, the Mayor moves on to the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:
“We sleekit, cowerin, timorous beastie,
Thou needna start awa sae hastie,
Wi bickerin brattle.”
Now seriously troubled, Boris turns to the accompanying doctor and asks
“What kind of facility is this? A mental ward?”
“Och, nooooo……” replies the doctor.
“This is the serious Burns unit.”
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