Burns Night

Robert Burns

Originally posted January 25th, 2014.


January 25th is Burns Night. Those inclined toward arson shouldn’t get too excited; it’s actually a holiday that celebrates Scotland’s most renowned poet. 

Scotland.org – Burns Night

Robert Burns lived just 37 years but in that time is said to have written or revised 559 poems and songs. A passionate man, he also fathered at least a dozen children, not all with his wife, the last of whom was born the day of his funeral.

Burns’ observations on the lives and feelings of the common man eventually endeared him to all classes of society. He was forthright and relatable, and his burning love for his country made him an icon of Scottish nationalism. But it’s not just the Scots who praise young Rabbie Burns; he has been immensely popular in other countries as well as evidenced by tributes from Sydney to Stanley Park to St. Petersburg.

Burns Night will be celebrated around the globe and many parties will involve Scottish music, dress, and traditions. A favorite Burns Night ritual is the recitation of his Address to a Haggis before the haggis is eaten:

If you don’t know haggis, you might not want to– it’s sheep organs with oatmeal, onions, spices, and suet boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Some adore its rich, spicy taste; others of us are fine with fake (vegan) haggis. 

Here in the Northwest, we’ve taken great liberties with the holiday, with some celebrating Gung Haggis Fat Choy. That’s a combination of Burns Night and the Chinese New Year, a strange mishmash that began in Vancouver about 20 years ago. Today is the 255th birthday of the Bard of Scotland– he was born in 1759– and in true weird wet weather fashion the Seattle celebration is being held the day before Presidents Day.

Others, however, stick with more traditional timing and traditions. There will be Burns Night celebrations on Mercer Island and in Mountlake Terrace tonight, cities on either side of Seattle. The Canadians love Burns Night, so they will be partying along with many in the UK, Australia, and America.

Burns is a rock star in Russia as well– many Burns Night dinners have been happening there this weekend. Some love the smell of haggis in Kiev. When Burns was translated into Russian during the days of Imperial Russia, common folk felt a kinship with him and honor him to this day. счастливые ожоги ночь! (that’s a literal translation, but hey, I tried).

The largest Burns Night Supper to date happened in 2009:

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns birth in 2009, more than 3,900 Burns Suppers in more than 80 countries were joined together to make the ‘The World Famous Burns Supper’ celebration.

From MacSween, Burns Night FAQs.

Even if you don’t want to get your tartan on and revel in a reading of Burns’ poetry tonight, you can easily find his writings online. One of my favorites is also one of his shortest musings:

The Book-Worms (1787)

Through and through th’ inspir’d leaves, 
Ye maggots, make your windings; 
But O respect his lordship’s taste, 
And spare his golden bindings.

Along with Auld Lang Syne, Burns’ Robert Bruce’s March to Bannockburn from 1793 is one of his better known literary triumphs, known to most as Scots Wha Hae:

Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled, 
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led, 
Welcome to your gory bed, 
Or to Victorie! 

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour; 
See the front o’ battle lour; 
See approach proud Edward’s power- 
Chains and Slaverie! 

Wha will be a traitor knave? 
Wha can fill a coward’s grave? 
Wha sae base as be a Slave? 
Let him turn and flee! 

Wha, for Scotland’s King and Law, 
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw, 
Free-man stand, or Free-man fa’, 
Let him on wi’ me! 

By Oppression’s woes and pains! 
By your Sons in servile chains! 
We will drain our dearest veins, 
But they shall be free! 

Lay the proud Usurpers low! 
Tyrants fall in every foe! 
Liberty’s in every blow!- 
Let us Do or Die!

Burns wrote in Scots. You can find the English and Scottish Gaelic translations of this poem here.

Feel free to browse more of Burns’ works at the Burns Country site, where they’ve posted his complete works. In his short and challenging life, Burns wouldn’t know that allowing his mind to spill over onto paper would be cause for celebration more than two and a half centuries after his death. His spontaneity and creativity still makes Scottish blood boil with pride and unites various cultures in the name of brotherhood and the love of a good trope with their tripe.


Thus bold, independent, unconquer’d, and free,

Her bright course of glory for ever shall run:

For brave Caledonia immortal must be…

-Robert Burns, 1789


©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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