The great Scottish poet Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759. Since then, many Scots, people of Scottish descent, and others who just like Scottish things have celebrated the Ploughman Poet’s birthday with something known as Burns Night or a Burns supper. (Actually, these things do happen year round, but January 25 is by far the most popular date due to his birthday.)
Some Burns Night celebrations are simple gatherings of friends with some Scottish food, music, and decorations, as well as some recitations of favorite Burns’ poems. Others are extremely formal affairs, following a strict order of ceremonies. These typically start with a welcoming speech and the Selkirk grace, thanking God for the food:
“Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.”
Then the main course is brought in and Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis” is recited. The haggis is a traditional savory pudding, made from various sheep organs, spices, and stock boiled inside a sheep stomach (sounds tasty, right? Alton Brown explains more here). According to Burns, the haggis is more than “worthy of a grace / as long as my arm” (sorry, I Americanized the quote).
After dinner, most Burns Night celebrations feature several toasts as well as singing or reciting several Burns songs before finishing up with everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne” together.
Personally, it’s a bit late for me to get together an actual Burns supper, and I definitely don’t feel up to cooking a haggis, so I think I’ll shrink my personal celebration down to reading, singing, and listening to several of my favorite poems by Robert Burns. This BBC page lists 716 works by Robert Burns. Although I definitely enjoy his more famous works – “To a Louse,” “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” etc. – one of my favorites is the short love song “John Anderson, my Jo.” Do you have a favorite?
“By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.”