Scotland: All About Scotland
Reading poetry to sheep’s organs? Taking the mickey out of women in a joking way and listening to a man play what one American tourist called a converted vacuum cleaner? What’s going on? This is Burns Night in Scotland!
Why do Scots celebrate Burns Night?
It commemorates their favourite poet, Robert Burns, who was born on January 25th, 1759.
And why the strange behaviour?
Well, Robbie Burns adored Scottish tradition and wrote a lot of poems and songs celebrating Scottish life including its food and drink. He even wrote a poem or toast named Ode to a Haggis in praise of a haggis. This is read to the haggis each Burns Night.
What exactly is a haggis?
It’s actually a sheep’s heart, lungs and liver with oatmeal and onions, all inside a ‘bag’ made from a sheep’s stomach. For more squeamish people there is now a vegetarian version available!
So a haggis is not an animal?
Not at all. However, many people could be forgiven for thinking it was because the Scots have often suggested that it is one in order to fool gullible tourists! They tell the tale of a wild haggis with one set of legs longer than the other so it can run around hillsides.
So they read a poem to sheep’s intestines and oats?
Yes. But that’s after the evening’s main ceremony which is the parade of the haggis. A piper walks ahead of the chef who carries in the haggis. The chef then places the haggis in front of the chairman or the host. Then someone reads Ode To A Haggis and whisky is given to the chef, the person reading the poem and the piper. Then it’s eaten with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (creamed potatoes).
And after they’ve eaten the haggis?
Then there are more songs and poems. First there is a song, then the host or speaker delivers a speech about Robbie Burns’ life. This always ends with a toast, usually with whisky. Then there are a few more songs, followed by a few more whiskies. Each person at the meal must recite something. Then maybe they have a few more whiskies.
There’s a lot of whisky drinking, wouldn’t Robbie Burns be rather shocked?
Absolutely not. In fact, he started it. Some describe him as a drunkard, others as ‘someone who enjoyed himself’ or ‘was very sentimental’.
So he was no saint!
Not at all. He was also a womaniser. Some say he was terrible to women (he was never faithful). Others say he adored them. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
Is Robbie Burns’ ‘appetite’ for women the reason for the Toast To The Lassies?
Yes. The toast is simply a lighthearted speech pointing out the funny things that women do!
Isn’t that a bit dangerous and sexist?
It can be but the ‘Lassies’ get a chance to answer in the Reply From The Lassies.
Um…more singing, a ceilidh (pronounced Kaylee) – a traditional dance, and perhaps something else too..drinking! The evening ends with everyone singing Auld Lang Syne – a traditional song written by Robbie Burns which people in Britain sing at New Year (Hogmanay) as well.
Hmm..so why was Robbie Burns such a hero?
He was an ordinary man who believed in equality, spoke out for the common man, and lived a very full life – he was ‘one of the lads’. He also had an amazing wit.
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