Burns Night – What’s it all about?

Robert_burnsIT IS THAT time of year again; the end of January is upon us, the excitement of New Year is beginning to wear off and we are beginning to feel sluggish. But not to fear! Tonight is Burns Night. For those of you who don’t know, Robbie Burns was one of Scotland’s most famous poets. He has earned his place on the Scottish bank note and has a night dedicated to him. That night is tonight. If that isn’t a reason to hear about him or to just spark intriguing interest then it is a good place to start.

Having been descended from a line of Glaswegians and Highlanders but living over the border, Burns Night has still been an integral event of the year for me. I was shocked, then, to find that people hadn’t heard of him at university and at home, especially considering that I live so close to the border. Maybe it is just me being naïve, thinking that everyone in the UK joins in the festivities of something that they feel is completely separate from them. However, there are many reasons to celebrate the life and work of the poet despite not being Scottish.

The first of these reasons is that at a Burns dinner you get to eat good food, and lots of it! Five courses of delicious Scottish delicacies: Soup and bread; haggis, neaps and tatties; steak pie and vegetables; Channahon, and topped off with a variety of cheeses and biscuits. It is also a very good excuse to drink whiskey: Proper, Scottish whiskey. Everyone gets a shot or two for the toasts. Do not knock haggis till you try it.

Another reason why Burns Night is worth your time is the music. The piping in of the haggis means that you have an amazing opportunity to listen to traditional Scottish bag pipes. After dinner a Kaleigh band play, leading on to my next reason; the dancing. Say what you will, but country dancing is really fun, especially once you get into it. And even more so when you are drunk. As well as this Burns night is an excuse to get dressed up. For men, that means kilts, mourning suits, tartan trousers or even just your smartest suit, and for the ladies it means your best dress and heels.

Probably the most important reason of them all is the big man himself – Robbie. His poetry is the reason this night exists in the first place. The poems that are normally read at a Burns dinner includes the address to the haggis. This is pretty exciting, as the person reciting it usually starts smashing the haggis up with a knife. The people who read them are really enthusiastic about it, which adds to the already buzzing atmosphere. If that isn’t good enough for the culture vultures amongst you, I don’t know what is.

For Scotland, Burns Night is a night of national pride; although it could be said they are quite a proud country anyway, tonight is a night where this pride is intensified. That being said, anyone with any link at all to Scotland seems to feel this as well. They’ll be singing ‘Oh flower of Scotland’ and drinking Irn Bru to their heart’s content, even in Wales or England. It doesn’t matter if you’re half Scandinavian and an eighth Scottish, or if you are just born and bred English, Welsh or Irish. His day of dedication should be a chance for the rivalry between Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales to cease, even for just one night. In a weird way, a night dedicated to a Scottish poet kind of gives the UK as a whole a night to celebrate in union. Instead of just national pride for Scotland, it gives a sense of pride for the whole of Great Britain that we can produce someone so great and that they can be such an influence that we are still celebrating their life hundreds of years after their death.