January is always a dark, cold month. But With Burns Night nearly upon us on 25th January, we can’t fail to have fun.
This is a tradition, where the life and works of Robbie Burns are celebrated. These celebrations – or Burns Suppers, generally take place in Scotland, but increasingly, other parts of the United Kingdom (and overseas) are now celebrating the Scottish poet’s life.
A typical Burns Night has a format: as guests arrive they are ‘piped in’ by a bagpiper. After the host has said a few words of greeting, grace is said. It is called the ‘Selkirk Grace’.
Some hae meat ancanna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
The first course is normally soup: probably a Scotch Broth, Cock-a-leekie or even potato soup.
Then there is the ‘Piping’ of the haggis, where a large haggis is brought in on a large silver platter by the cook, to the sound of a bagpipe. The haggis is put onto the host’s table. The host or a guest then recites “The 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 o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
|(fa = fat)
(sonsie = jolly/cheerful)
(aboon = above)
|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.
|(hurdies = buttocks)|
|His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
|(dicht = wipe, here with the idea of sharpening)
(slicht = skill)
|Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
(deil = devil)
(swall’d = swollen, kytes = bellies, belyve = soon)
(bent like = tight as)
(auld Guidman = the man of the house, rive = tear, i.e. burst)
|Is there that o’re his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
(olio = stew, from Spanish olla’/stew pot, staw = make sick)
(scunner = disgust)
|Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
(nieve = fist, nit = nut, i.e. tiny)
|But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whistle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thristle.
|(wallie = mighty, nieve = fist)
(sned = cut off)
|Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!
|(skinkin ware = watery soup)
(jaups = slops about, luggies = two-handled continental bowls)
At the line His knife see rustic Labour dicht the speaker normally draws and sharpens a knife, and at the line An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht, plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly this “ceremony” is a highlight of the evening and really very exciting!
At the end of the ceremony, the haggis is toasted with Scotch whisky before everyone sits down. The main course comprises of haggis, tatties. (potatoes) and neets. (Parsnips). The dessert could be cheeses or I have even had cranagon as a dessert.
Following the meal, expect to put on your dancing shoes and participate in a ceilidh. Combining a live ceilidh band with a good caller, dashing Scotsmen in kilts and general laughter is the best way to finish a truly memorable evening. There are a number of public versions of these celebrations so look in your local press for invitations.