Bagpipes, Whisky and a Celebration of Women – Burns Night
With copious amounts of Sheep’s pluck , free flowing whisky and poetry and songs that map the trials and tribulations of love as well as tales of frolics in the hay there are many reasons to celebrate Burns Night.
The first Burns Supper was organised by Robert Burns’ friends to celebrate his works and life, being held on the fifth anniversary of his death, 21st July. However in the 1800’s the first Burn’s clubs were established to mark the poet’s birth date ,25th January 1759 and it is now customary to celebrate the life of Robert Burn on the 25th January with the celebratory eating of Haggis and a tipple.
Before the start of the supper it is traditional for Selkirk Grace to be recited; this is not the work of Burns an indeed it has been in use since the seventeenth century.
Some hae meat and canna eat
And some wad eat, that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
The meal usually begins with Cock-a-leekie soup, a rich chicken soup that is packed with flavoursome leeks and enhanced with prunes. Once you have tasted real cock-a-leekie soup, a tin will never suffice again. After the first course is cleared a piper enters the room and the legendary Parade of the Haggis begins. Guests rise to their feet and clap to welcome the Haggis into the room, as the bagpipes are played; the Chef carries the Haggis ceremoniously around the room followed by a waiter carrying a bottle of whisky. The haggis traditionally presented on a large plate and is of a spectacular size, signifying its importance. As the haggis reaches the top table the Chairman takes the whisky and pours out two big glasses: one for the piper and one for the chef. The piper falls silent, as the haggis is ceremoniously laid on the table. Now the haggis is ‘addressed’ by one of the guests from Burn’s poem, ‘Address to a Haggis’ (1786) with the lines:
Fair fa’ your hones, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race.
The dirk (dagger) is now plunged into the Haggis and a St. Andrew’s cross is cut in the top, marking the start of the feast. With the haggis being the star of the show, no Burns Night Supper would be complete without it. Traditionally made with sheep’s pluck (liver, heart and lungs) along with oatmeal, suet, herbs and spices. Family recipes are usually closely guarded secrets and butchers all have their own little recipe variations and quirks.
Traditionally the haggis is served with ‘neeps and tatties’, mashed potatoes and swede or turnip and accompanied with whisky cream sauce which compliments the strong flavour of the haggis.
After the meal is eaten and the whisky has duly flowed speeches are made in praise of Robbie Burns and there is usually a traditional “Toast to the Lassies’ made by a male guest giving thanks to the women in their lives. It is customary for a female guest to respond to the toast with a witty remark or two. Everyone joins in the singing of Burn’s songs which is no doubt aided by more than a wee dram of Scotland’s finest and it is usual for favourite poems and recitations to follow. Finally, the night ends with everyone joining hands and singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ followed by three exhilarating cheers for absent friends.
There is no better celebration to warm you up on a dreary January night and celebrate the wonder of womankind.