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"It's haggis. Try it. You’ll like it."

Jan 24, 2013 10:22PM ● By Anonymous

The national poet of Scotland and pioneer of the Romantic movement, Burns is known for his poems “A Red, Red Rose” and the “Tam o’Shanter,” but his work extends further into western culture than you might immediately assume. We sing his verse “Auld Lang Syne” each New Year’s Eve, and J.D. Salinger referenced a Burns poem for his classic work The Catcher in the Rye (Burns’ poem is “Comin’ thro the Rye,” which is most well known as a children’s song in Scotland).

In addition to reading and singing the bard, annual Burns suppers appear around the country, where enthusiasts recite poetry, eat traditional Scottish food (oatcakes, cock-a-leekie soup, and trifles are all staples), and celebrate Scottish heritage. A host works to make everyone feel welcome while a bagpiper performs as the haggis, a traditional Scottish meal, is served. Certain poems such as the “Selkirk Grace” and the “Address to a Haggis”  are often performed in conjunction with the meal.

Toasts and speeches are often present at Burns suppers, also. One in particular is the Toast to the Lassies, where a gentleman guest might opine his (generally humorous and inoffensive) view on the fairer sex. Burns himself was a Freemason, and Burns suppers are frequently celebrated in Masonic Temples,where women have historically not been present. However, as more and more women attended Burns suppers, the rebuttal “Toast to the Laddies” became a frequent source of entertainment.

And these toasts bring us to one of the best parts of any Burns Supper: the Scotch, or uisge beatha, “water of life.” No celebration of Scottish culture would be complete without a tasting of the fateful alcohol, and Burns suppers spare no expense in finding the best.

It’s possible that Burns suppers started off as a way for Burns’ closest friends and admirers to gather on the night of his anniversary with a “wee dram” of alcohol and recite his poetry to each other. What Burns suppers have grown into is a celebration of Scottish heritage and pride as well as an annual literary event.

Even if the idea of eating haggis and drinking Scotch isn’t your exact cup of tea, Burns suppers are a wonderful evening of warm friendship and celebration. There are several suppers around Maryland celebrating the poet, and it’s not too late to get involved or even throw your own. Just remember, though, that the key to a successful and fun evening is participation, so be sure to stick a poem in your pocket before you leave the house. Whether or not you want to attempt reciting it in a Scottish accent is up to you.

The Robert Burns Society of Annapolis hosts their dinner on January 26.

The Celtic Society of Southern Maryland hosts their dinner on January 26 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Solomon’s.

The Saint Andrews Society of Washington, DC will host their Burns Supper on February 10 at Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria.