Monday, January 30, 2017

Robert Burns Night

Add to Google Reader or HomepageFair 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 worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm. 

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

(First and last stanza. Address to a Haggis. by Robert Burns)

I can say in all honesty that there are two things that I would never have imagined doing during our days in France: attending a Robert Burns birthday celebration and eating haggis. Last week we did both and had a wonderful time!

There was a certain serendipity to the event. We happened to run into UK friends while shopping last week. We talked for a while and then provided them with our phone numbers. Before we got home, we had a message inviting us to join them for dinner. When we called to confirm that we would love to have dinner with them, the hosts clarified that it was for a Robert Burns night - January 25 to celebrate the birthday of the Scottish poet - and that in addition to the traditional agenda of the evening, we would be eating haggis. So, a new opportunity. . .

Our hosts had decorated their house in a Scottish theme. They even had found “Robbie Burns” napkins to complement the appetizer. I had put on my most representative plaid shirt and we headed out of our village, traversing time and geography to reach the moors of Scotland. People arrived wearing Scottish plaids and tam o’ shanters. There were no bagpipes to greet us but our host plays the piano and played "The Skye Boat song" as we moved to the dining room.

The evening included poems between the meal courses and a lot of wine, though the traditional Scotch was also offered for a toast. Though not everyone drank it, a Burns Night would hardly be complete without it.

And then there was the haggis... It was served as the Robert Burns poem Address to a Haggis was read. I purposely did not look up the description of how haggis is made. I had a recollection of ingredients that left me not interested in ever trying it. I was wrong! It was very tasty and I did not have to ruin my Robbie Burns napkin by hiding my haggis in it.

As our (Ellen’s) contribution to the evening, Ellen had researched the links between Scotland and the USA. She found that Burns had had a strong influence on our own President Lincoln as well as many other Americans during his time. She talked about how President Lincoln had enjoyed Robert Burns’ poetry and how the two men had had similar philosophies of social equality and nonjudgmental tolerance. Lincoln had recited Burns poems from the time he was a teenager and these poems influenced the cadence that Lincoln used in his public speaking. It was a gratifying discovery, especially in these times when presidential rhetoric has changed so much.

The evening ended with all of us singing "Auld Lang Syne" (another Burns poem).

Là breith sona dhuit, Robbie. (happy birthday, Robbie)


  1. Another Great text of yours Mark!
    I really appreciate it... and thanks for sharing it as I didm't know of President Lincoln reciting Burns poems....

    1. Thanks Mary. Actually it was Ellen who found the link between Burns and Lincoln. Cool, isn't it?

  2. Wow - this really sounds like fun! I sent you an email but I am not sure it went through - can you send me your correct email address?