My Burns Night celebrations this year spanned across two evenings, and involved heaps of haggis, neeps and tatties and finding myself in a circle of at least 100 rowdy strangers, doing the dutty wine on a kilted Scotsman. Let me explain.
For those of you not in the know, Burns night is a uniquely Scottish annual celebration, held in honour of Robert Burns (aka Rabbie Burns), a Scottish poet from the 18th century. Traditionally, there ought to be bagpipes piping in the haggis, an address to the haggis, an address to the lassies, another to the laddies, and a cheeky ceilidh. Fodder is haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes – mashed, in this case).
Sunday saw me at a homemade Burns Night celebration in the kitchen of my residence hall, where everyone attempted to wear tartan and a mountain of tatties were left uneaten. We managed to source real Scottish people for the public speaking bits. Angus (my future dance-off partner) read the Burns poem Address to the Haggis, and thank goodness he did, because that poem read in any other accent would have been a garbled mess. Then we had a Scotsman read the Address to the Lassies, which involves a speech whose general sentiment is the bawdier the better. Likewise the Address to the Laddies.
Last night was the Burns celebration held at the beautiful old turreted Student Union building Teviot Row House. By the time I arrived and gulped down my portion of haggis, neeps and tatties, the ceilidh was in full swing. A ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee), is basically a Gaelic dance party, with lots of partners swinging each other around to the sound of folk music. Last night, the band was a troupe of strapping, kilted Scotsmen playing bagpipes, drums and guitar and calling out the dance steps. I jumped in and before I knew it, the host was eliminating couples from the dancefloor till there was just Angus and I and two other couples. With zero warning, we found ourselves in a circle of clapping and stomping dancers, leading a freestyle dance-off.
We won, of course. I think the fusion of Gaelic folk with diverse dance styles, including the butterfly, really helped us stand out, not to mention my finishing with the classic ceilidh move, the dutty wine, on my partner as the host exclaimed, “I was not expecting that!” Plus we had to do a wheelbarrow race up and down the hall, which secured our victory. Quite a boisterous Monday night for me, on the whole.
It is so delightful having such Scottish celebrations. This is a culture which has hung on firmly to its traditions, distinctive and full of magic. Modern young Scotsmen, charming as I’m sure they are in their day-to-day high-street t-shirts, suddenly take on an entire new magnetism when garbed in the full-blown kilt outfit, waistcoat, blazer and all (no comments about being “true Scotsmen”, please!), and can swing you round the room to the pounding of lively folk music as if it were 1900 and you a young couple courting in a barn on the Highlands. Beats having a stranger humping your leg in a club any day.