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What is Burns Night?

By Christian Rose-Day (22 Jan 15)
Tags: robert burns,rabbie burns,burns night,burns supper,january 25th,burns night in london,auld lang syne,neeps tatties,toast to the haggis,where to eat on burns night,

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There is no better way to celebrate the life and work of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, than by enjoying a few drams of whisky in January for what Scottish folk around the world like to call Burns Night (in London).

Who was Robert Burns?

Robert Burness (he later dropped the ‘es') was born on January 25th 1759, meaning if he were alive today to celebrate his birthday he would be almost as old as Sylvester Stallone in his last Rocky movie. Burns' parents (names: Bored and Randy) went on to have SIX more children after him.

Rabbie Burns, the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire, Scotland's favourite son and, some would say, the world's greatest poet was regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, a champion of the common people and a drunk. During his life he was a farmer, a freemason, a tax collector and even something called a ‘flax-dresser' (up until one New Year's Eve when he and his mates got hammered and burned the building they worked in to the ground. Then, he was a flax-dresser no more).

Other interesting Burns titbits include siring several illegitimate children; planning to elope to the West Indies; and unfortunately dying on the very same day his last son was born.

He also has two towns in the US named after him, lends his face to the Clydesdale £5 banknote and is partly responsible for the novel ‘The Catcher In The Rye.'

As for his own work, he wrote in both Scots and English on themes such as Republicanism, Radicalism and class and gender inequalities. His famous songs and poems included “A Red, Red Nose", “To A Louse" and “Scots Wha Hae."

When is Burns Night in London?

Celebrate Rabbie Burns' birthday each year on the 25 January, which, in 2017, lands on a Wednesday. The first payday of the year must be close by so there's no excuse not to book a Burns Supper or a night on the whisky to toast Scotland's great poet.

Loving this #burnsnight Wellington @mazegrill Gx

A photo posted by Gordon Ramsay (@gordongram) on

What is Burns Supper?

Burns Night is great if your business is in whisky sales. Burns Night is not so great if your business is in being a sheep. This is because a supper is held in Burns' honour and there's no prizes for guessing what's on the menu.

The celebrations take on a very particular format and begins with the Chairperson's opening address and the Selkirk Grace. Then, the congregation stands and performs a slow hand-clap whilst the haggis is lead out by a piper and the chef.

Read aloud is a Burns Night poem, such as one of Burns' most famous poems, “To The Haggis," which begins with the verse:

Fair 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 wordy o' a grace

As lang's my arm.

After that, the poem continues on to paint a distinctly Tarantino picture with mentions of spewing, burping, gushing entrails and the clapping of a blade “in his wallie" or “a dash of legs an' arms, an' heads will sned."

An invited guest gives a short speech after everyone has munched their way through a mouthwatering spread consisting mainly of foods that would make many an infantile mind snigger - cockaleekie, bashed neeps, Champit tatties, tyspy laird and faggots.

The men then toast the ladies and the ‘lasses' respond with a light-hearted toast to the mens' imperfections. The evening ends with songs and poems written by the man of the hour, culminating with a good old linking of arms and a rousing, red-cheeked rendition of Burns' Auld Lang Syne.

If you like the idea of celebrating Rabbie Burns on January 25th, book yourself in for a Burns Supper at one of London's best restaurants.

Image courtesy of Flickr user kf0nz1.

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