Burns Night!

8 Feb


Week 2 Formal Hall was no ordinary formal hall; it was Burns Night (I hope you will soon believe as I do) is the most FUN British holiday to celebrate!  With food, poetry readings, and a lively “ceilidh” dance, this easily ranks as one of the most light-hearted of all our formal halls to date.  (See video link above for major proof).

“History, Lads!”

Burns Night is a celebration of the life and works of Scottish poet, Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796).  Although celebrations can take place any time during the year, Burns Night is most commonly celebrated towards the end of January, around his birthday.  As dinner commences,  the staff and guests are “piped in” by a bagpiper who provides them with a sort of ceremonial entrance.  Once everyone has been ceremonially “piped” to their seats, the host (in our case, the college president) says a few words of welcome and recites the Selkirk Grace, a thanksgiving said before meals, using the Lallans Lowland Scots language.

The Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

Prayers said, we began with a bowl of Scottish cock-a-leekie soup., made with leeks and chicken broth.

After much anticipation — and hunger — we waited for one of the most exciting moments of the evening: the Salute to the Haggis!

Haggis is THE traditional Scottish dish, so it’s most appropriate that it is to be served on Burns Night.  I would tell you what’s in it, but honestly it’s better not to know.  Trust me, ignorance is bliss on this one.  But the important part is that it’s very very tasty.  I loved it and purposefully did NOT ask what was in haggis until days later.    Like most culinary experiences abroad, the best thing to do is just smile and eat it then ask questions later.

So when an excited hush fell upon the room and the bagpiper started playing, I leaned in to the person next to me and asked what was happening next.  “The Salute to the Haggis,” she said, matter-of-factly, and I burst out laughing. (Perhaps a little too loudly.)  My first thought was Are you serious??! And the solemn procession of the chef walking in holding a glistening plate of haggis high above his head told me, Actually yes, we are serious. We are Scottish and we take our Haggis very seriously. From that point I knew better than to laugh (at least not out loud anyway).

The Haggis salute, subsequently vigorous Haggis consumption, was followed by a poetic and amusing “Toast to the Ladies” given by one of our very own undergraduate guys.  Actually, it was less like a toast and more of a stand-up comedy routine.  This was followed by an equally poetic response, a “Toast to the Laddies,” full of flirtatious banter and coy remarks in rhyme given by one of the undergraduate girls.  Both were quite fun, witty, and thus delivered in a very Robert Burns-esque style.  This sort of public speaking — in the form of a toast or a poetry reading — is another staple Burns Night tradition.

(My friend Barbara and me at dinner)

But of all the traditions mentioned thus far, including even the whiskey and chocolate tasting following the meal, my favorite of all the Burn’s Night festivities has to be the ceilidh (pronounced “keh-lee) or the traditional Scottish folk dancing, very similar to the square dancing we have back home in the States. There was a band with a violin, percussion and accordion, who called the different moves and we all had fun circling and skipping around; a kick here, a do-si-do there…Of course, it was a little difficult to get an entire hall full of people moving in the same direction and at the same time, especially after the whiskey had been circulating.  But despite varying levels of coordination and sobriety, everyone in the hall danced and seemed to have a great time.

I probably got into it more than most people in the room — which is what often happens when faced with the opportunity for dancing.  I The only problem is that I have a greater tendency to lead than to follow, so I dragged my poor housemates Tim and Bryn around the dancefloor and pushed them around as needed; I was generally quite bossy, but nobody could’ve accused us of being out of time — I made sure of that.



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