Though most people will not have marked it, two weeks ago, the 25th of January, was Burns night. Burns night is an evening held on the poet's birthday, and is dedicated to the man, his life, and his poems.
As with most holidays, there are certain traditions for Burns night. Typically, the evening is celebrated by gathering with friends and family for a dinner consisting of haggis, neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes). The haggis is escorted in to a chorus of bagpipes and there are toasts made to the haggis, to the laddies and to the lasses. Kilts are encouraged.
Last year, in a move of extreme folly I skipped Burns night. Though my school was hosting a dinner, I did not attend due to my feeling that my limited funds could be better spent elsewhere. My subsequent regret was a firm lesson in the idea that no matter how broke you are, you always have enough money for amazing and unique experiences (and cheese and chocolate). This year therefore, I was determined to go to a Burns night.
Cutting the haggis - still in the sheep's stomach
It took some scouring of the internet to pick a Burns dinner I was really excited about, but finally I found one that struck me as particularly interesting. The Scottish Storytelling Center was putting on a dinner which featured storytellers relating the life and poems of Burns. Fortunately I managed to convince three friends to come along.
The dinner itself was held in the back room of the storytelling center, which has wood-paneled walls and is currently decorated with long cloths decorated with wax-print designs taken from patterns of Pictish stones. In the front of the room was a harpist, and three storytellers. We sat down at a table carved of a raw slab of tree, and chairs carved the same way.
The storytellers began by telling of Burns’ birth and wove his poems - which they mostly sang - into the biography, accompanied by the harpist. As much as I love reading Burns, he is a poet who must be heard to be fully appreciated. There is a certain poetry in the words that one misses when reading.
The night's fare
There is also, of course, the issue of the Scotts language. When reading Burns one may wonder how "thee" and "eye" could possibly rhyme, but listening, one realizes that "eye" is pronounced "e’e". The best reason to listen to Burns though, is the music. His poetry is brilliant, but set to music, it is divine, and the harpist and the storytellers/singers did it full justice.
While listening to the stories and poems we spent the evening eating traditional Burns night fare. When the haggis was brought in (still in the sheep’s stomach - not something I needed to see) there was the toast to the haggis, and the evening finished up with a dramatic re-telling of the epic of tam o'shanter, the man who tried to get home drunk.
At the close of the dinner we all took hands and sang old Lang syne (to its original tune) and bid each other goodbye, and I left happy I had finally experienced a Burns night.
Warning: Even though I LOVE Haggis I have never tried this recipe. I live in a dorm and apparently cooking Haggis smells. So no idea if it works or not. The recipe I have here is cobbled together from the website: http://www.rampantscotland.com/recipes/blrecipe_haggis.htm and various pieces I have read on cooking Haggis.