Haggis and the Highlands: Burns-ing down the house
Every year, on the 25th January, it is legally required for every member of the Democratic Republic of Scotland to pay homage and thanks eternal to Scotland’s favourite son, the Romantic poet Robert Burns.
1) Robert Burns: the Kim Il Sung of Ayrshire
I start searching for ‘Burns’ Night’ in Google; before I hit the apostrophe, ‘burns when i pee’ pokes its wee head out from the suggestion drop-down. I manage to find Rabbie’s fan club in the end, who describe the night as a “gastro-literary” event. My, how quaint it sounds: Romantic poetry, traditional dress, the best of Scottish cuisine. Fortunately though, whilst Burns’ Night is a celebration of everything Scottish, it is also a colossal dance-cum-piss up. Beginning with a strict running order, with countless addresses and toast after toast, Burns’ Night ends in a drunken haze, like any good commemoration service. The sycophancy has obviously got to some of the Scottish population, with the National Library of Scotland hosting an ‘Anything but Burns Wikipedia edit-a-thon’ this year, where every other creative Caledonian is paid their dues by those sick to death of Tam o’ Shanter.
2) Food: Free-Range Haggis, anyone?
The Highland wild haggis, which resembles a shaggy aardvark, can be distinguished from the Lowland stock by its leg length discrepancy- only the Highland breed will demonstrate a difference, an adaptation they have evolved to negotiate the menacing Munros. Or that’s what the locals tell shits-for-brains tourists. No, the haggis is actually a stomach, churned. Filled with oatmeal, mincemeat and sheep’s pluck- heart, liver and lungs- no Burns’ Supper is complete without its haggis. One Scottish lassie recounted her tales to this reporter of Burns’ Supper during her American exile: so integral was the haggis that the mater familias resorted to illicit lung-smuggling, due to FDA pulmonary prejudice. The haggis even receives its own groveling speech, in which the host beseeches himself before the “great chieftain o’ the pudding race”, then proceeds to slash the gut to smithereens. Served with ‘neeps’ (turnips) and ‘tatties’ (potatoes).
3) Alcohol: dram-atic drinking
O’ the sottish Scottish. There is no point really in any Scot ditching the Dalwhinnie for New Year; for come the 25th, the rivers run amber and peaty. When asked what they drink on Burn’s Night, one Scot, who wishes to remain anonymous (too drunk to remember his own name, methinks), replied “lots”. Christina St Clair, proud Scot of St John’s, still seemed a little inebriated from her ceilidh practice the night before when she declared the worst thing about Burns’ Night was “the hangover”. With the drink provoking verbal diarrhea, one discovers the beauty of Scotch slang. Gaelic expletives sound like they were invented for the drunken tosspots of Burn’s NIght; I can’t imagine “ye dumb sassenach” sounding any better than when dribbled over a dram.
4) Dancing: It’s pronounced “kay-lee”
Expect a shiner or two post-ceilidh: this traditional Scottish dancing style requires partners to swing each other across the room like rag-dolls. The intense gyroscopic spinning the dances require has also inadvertently sent many a Scot into orbit upon disengagement. Sounds intimidating, but dinna fash yersel! A caller takes everyone through the steps before and during each dance. Apparently, the ceilidh suffers from endemic old lonely men, desperate to cop a feel of youth in abundance; so if feeling charitable on Burns’ Night, remember you can always make an old man happy. The dance often ends with a rendition of Auld lang syne, where everyone joins hands for a giant game of hokey-cokey to the music we didn’t enjoy twenty-five days ago, but seeing we’re just as bollocksed as we were the first time round, WGAF.