Known in medieval Celtic culture as a story teller, verse maker and composer, Robert Burns (1759-1796) is one of the world’s greatest poets.
However, few are as celebrated as him, who people pay tribute to on 25 January each year, his birthday, that has become an occasion for Scots all over the world to gather together in his honor.
Robert Burns was born January 25th, 1759, in Alloway, Scotland, and was the oldest of seven children. His father was a poor farmer, and so he received little formal education. Despite this, he became well-versed in literature and was an avid reader from a young age.
He began writing poetry at an early age, and his first book of poems, “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,” was published in 1786. His poetry was characterized by its strong sense of place, its use of colloquial language, and its celebration of ordinary people and their lives. His most famous works include “A Red, Red Rose,” “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” and “To a Mouse.”
In addition to his poetry, he also wrote songs, many of which have become traditional Scottish folk songs.
He died on July 21, 1796, at the age of 37 years old due a rheumatic heart condition and is believed to have died from an infection of the heart called endocarditis.
But his work never died has had a lasting influence on Scottish literature and culture, and he is celebrated as a national hero in Scotland.
But not only: Robert Burns legacy is incredibly impressive reaching far and wide across the globe and into the consciousness of some of the world’s most well-known people.
He composed hundreds of songs and poems in both Scottish and English, but did you known that, after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, he has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure?
The first Burns Night was held on July 21st, 1801.
It was the fifth anniversary of his death, and was organized by his friends and fellow poets, who wanted to honor his memory and celebrate his work.
Over the years, Burns Night has evolved and taken on many different forms. Some celebrations are formal and traditional, while others are more casual and modern. However, the basic elements of the celebration have remained the same, and this holiday continues to be a popular and enduring tribute to the life and work of Robert Burns.
Still today many Scots host a Burns supper on this day, although they can be held throughout the year.
Some of the suppers can be grand affairs, others less formal, and the events will often feature a bagpiper or traditional Scottish music.
A Burns Night supper usually includes haggis, a traditional dish of the heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf minced with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings.
His words, “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!” greets the dish’s entry into the room.
Whisky, wine, and ale have prominent roles in the meal, and alcohol can play a role in easing the transition to the entertainment to come.
The dinner may also include other Scottish dishes, such as Cullen skink, a soup made from smoked haddock.
During the dinner, there are also a number of traditional ceremonies and rituals that are performed that may include:
– The Selkirk Grace, with a prayer said before the meal, which is traditionally attributed to Robert Burns.
– The Address to a Haggis, a poem recited by the host or another guest, which celebrates the haggis as a symbol of Scottish culture.
– The Toast to the Lassies, a speech given by a male guest, in which he thanks the women in attendance for their contributions to the evening.
– The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, given by a female guest, in response to the Toast to the Lassies.
– The Toast to the Immortal Memory, a speech given by the host or a guest, in which they pay tribute to Robert Burns and his contributions to literature and culture.
Other common elements of Burns Night celebrations may include speeches, dancing, and music. Some celebrations also include a cèilidh (a traditional Scottish dance party), as well as traditional Scottish music played on instruments such as the bagpipes or the fiddle.
On this day men wear kilts and women their tartan sashes, and the evening’s celebration includes reading his poems and singing his songs, ending with one of his most famous, “Auld Lang Syne”.
Most of us are familiar with the first verse:
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne”….
Images from web – Google Research