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The perfect antidote to the winter blues: whisky, poetry and old ‘sonsie face’

 
Tom Hall
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Burns Night Supper Celebrated At Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
Addressing the haggis on Burns Night. (Source: Getty)

If winter’s getting you down, how about an evening that features an earnest address to a dish made of a sheep’s innards and ends with the most-sung song in the English-speaking world?

Not exactly your average night out. But Robbie Burns was not exactly average either.

Robbie Burns, or Rabbie if you like, was a Scottish farmer/poet/lothario/tax-man/debtor/genius who gets the full celebration supper treatment in honour of his general human awesomeness every year on 25th January.

There’s no count of all the Burns Suppers that are held in just about every corner of the world (hundreds, thousands?), but it’s a tradition that’s grown and grown every year since the great man shuffled off this mortal coil at the all-too-early age of 37.

Poor genius

So, if you’re not familiar with the whole Burns thing, here’s how it goes.

Empoverished farmer ekes out a living by day with coos and the like, educates himself by night, writes startlingly brilliant poems and songs, woos lots of ladies (lots), stays very poor, takes literary society by storm, gets published, speaks out on social injustice, gets married, fathers nine kids, and dies just before the last one is born, leaving debts of £14. Oh, and becomes national hero and international figure.

Universal man

His poetry has been admired by Nobel-prizewinner Bob Dylan and quoted by John Steinbeck - scathing satires and tender love songs delivered in a direct, playful, yet sympathetic voice that speaks to everyone.

Burns’ ‘Address to the Haggis’ with its famous opening lines ‘Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!’ is typical for giving a humble dish of sheep’s lights, oatmeal and seasoning due respect as good enough to feed rich and poor alike.

Here’s to what’s-his-name

Besides haggis, a good Burns night supper also has toasts, lots of them, to the haggis, to the national bard himself, to the ‘lassies’ and the ‘lads’, to the host, the cook, to Scotland, to absent friends, present ones, to poetry etc etc. You get the drift. Listen, this is the guy who wrote a poem to a mouse, so nothing’s too small not to toast with the finest Scottish whisky.

Oh, and with all this talk of haggis, spare a thought for our American friends who still can’t tuck into a real haggis due to local food laws, though it is sometimes amazing how a haggis or two does turn-up as if by magic in that part of the world.

How do you like your haggis?

By the way, if a full-blown ‘meat’ haggis is not entirely your cup of tea, vegetarian versions are available. Howerver, do make sure you have plenty of neeps and tatties to go with it: that’s mashed parsnips and potato for those yet to discover these down-home Scots delights.

That’s about it. Enjoy your first, or forty-first, Burns Supper. Enjoy toasting, eating, reciting, laughing, clapping, listening, making friends and deepening friendships. And, of course, at the end of the night, singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at the top of your voice.

Surely Burns would agree, ‘Auld acquaintance should never be forgot’, especially on 25th January.