For those who live in the UK and especially the Scots, the term Burns Night will not be a strange name or term. For non British and those new to living in the UK you may not have heard about it as it is not an English thing and its not really official in the Scottish calendar. It’s a tradition that lives with Scottish people and sometimes they might discuss it on the radio as an event that lives with the people and which they like to celebrate, even when they are living away from Scotland.
Thus to witness this kind of folklore tradition in England, let alone in the West Country (of England), would seem to be unlikely. However, the Scottish live everywhere in the the UK, including England. Thus last Monday night, when we were visiting the local pub, to start our new routine of Monday Night Out, we bumped in to this Burns Night Tradition.
So what is Burns Night?
Burns Night is a night to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns that falls on the 25th January. Robert Burns is the most famous Scottish Poet, who was born on the 25 January 1759. The tradition started a few years after the poet’s death in 1796, when his friends commemorated his career on the date of his birthday each year, reciting his poems over a haggis dinner and off course drinking whiskey; normally the poem recited is Addressing the Haggis and that starts the Burns Supper. For more details, there are a lot of websites that tell this story, even Rabbie Burns has his own website.
Two centuries later Burns Supper is still popular both nationwide as well as internationally, as Scottish expats living abroad also celebrate it, between the period of 25th to 27th January. Thus the pub we visited that Monday night which normally does not serve any food on a Monday had haggis on the menu, and only haggis.
The normal ritual of Burns Supper will start with a piper calling to welcome guests and the haggis, which typically is carried on a silver salver, the diners, then stand with slow clapping with the piper piping in the haggis and then somebody will recite the Rabbie Burns’ poem of how he Addressed the Haggis as his way of being thank full for the meal (that is the haggis) as he recites the last line of the poem: “Gie her a haggis“. The haggis will then served with turnips and potatoes (Neeps & Tatties) hence the name on the menu was “crushed neeps and mashed tatties“
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face
Great Chieftain o the buddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ye tak your place
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm
However, the interpretation of a Burns Supper can be very elaborate or rough and ready. The Three Tuns pub that we went to was pretty rough and ready. One doesn’t need to book to join the celebration, we were there by accident. How they served the Haggis with crushed neeps and mashed tatties was also pretty rough and ready, with no fancy presentation.
the video from youtube below is a typical example of how Burns Suppers are celebrated:
What is Haggis?
What is haggis that was included into a poem that lasts till now. Haggis is a savory pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver and lung, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach. The taste…. hmm… something to experience.
Regardless of the Burns Supper, the pub itself, the Three Tuns is a basic little pub in central Bristol, close to the Cathedral and just off College Green. It has lots of activities that make it more interesting and well worth a visit.
The Three Tuns website: http://the3tuns.com/