Burns Night

Burns Night

Tam O'Shanter

Having just celebrated Hogmanay – the Scots word for New Year’s Eve – many of us will be looking forward to a quiet few days. However, there are only a few weeks to go until another of Scotland’s annual causes for celebration: Burns Night.

Each year, on or around the 25th of January, many people choose to mark the life of the bard or poet Robert Burns. He was born in Alloway on January 25th in 1759 and he packed a lot into his short life of 37 years. Through his poetry and songs, he influenced the way we think about life, love and politics. He also played a leading role in ensuring that the Scots language is still in use today.

His influence is such that it hard to know where to begin with Burns but his widespread popularity can be gauged by the fact that he has more statues dedicated to him than everyone except Queen Victoria, Christopher Columbus and religious figures. Some even think that the works of Burns played a part in helping American President, Abraham Lincoln win the American Civil War and abolish slavery. Slightly ironic given that Burns had, at one point, made plans to travel to the colonies and work as a supervisor on a plantation.

Burns night dishes

A complex character who fathered at least twelve children by different women, he was no saint. But perhaps his strength came in recognising that very few people are in any way saintly but we are all equal. Most of us now take equality for granted but during his lifetime, when revolutionary fervour was sweeping America and Europe, such ideas were seen as quite radical. Perhaps even seditious.

The tradition of celebrating his life with an evening of food, drink and poetry started in 1801 when friends of his gathered to toast his memory. These days the order of a Burns Night event is well established although informal Burns suppers probably won’t include some of the pomp and ceremony of a formal do. Hiring a piper to parade the haggis around the dining rooms is probably a little too much for most domestic settings.

Of course, Scottish recipes will feature large in most Burns celebrations. Cock-a-leekie soup or Scotch broth are both common starter dishes although some people like to have haggis, neeps and tatties as a starter and then have beef or venison as a main course. Cranachan – a mix of whipped cream toasted oats, raspberries, honey and whisky – is a popular dessert option. Whisky is a given.

Burns night poems

A couple of drams of Scotch might just make the poetry recitals go with a swing. Just how much of Burns’ poetry and songs to include in a Burns Night is up for debate. Not everybody will have the stamina to remember all 228 lines of Tam O’Shanter but the eight stanzas of Address to a Haggis are more manageable. (The pic for this blog shows a wicker statue of Tam on his horse Meg. You can see it in the grounds of the Burns cottage in Alloway)

However you choose to celebrate Burns, his works are more popular than ever. While Covid may have curtailed many a Burns Night party in 2021 it is looking as though we will be able to get together in 2022. Something we can all raise a glass to.

Customs related to Burns Nights and the foods commonly eaten at them are just the sort of topics discussed on our food tours. If that sounds like your cup of tea, or indeed your glass of Scotch, the you can book in here.

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