By Jane Forsyth ” vice présidente de l’association Charles Rennie Mackintosh en Roussillon”
When it became clear last year that we should be unable to celebrate St. Andrew’s night because of Covid restrictions, I started to hope that we might be able to offer you another Scottish celebration- that of a Burns supper on or about the night of 25th January.
Now though it is clear that this again is not possible, so I thought you might be interested in hearing what it is. It is part of the usual Scottish social calendar and so it is quite likely that our own Toshie would have known and even celebrated it with his friends
Robert Burns (also known to Scots as Rabbie Burns)
was born on 25th January 1759 He died on 21st July 1796 . He is the National Bard, or Poet of Scotland and Burns Night is annually celebrated in Scotland on or around January 25. It celebrates the life of Burns and his contribution to Scottish culture including some of his works. His best known work is Auld Lang Syne
One of the other things well-known about Burns is his love of the ladies and this too is reflected in the Burns suppers.
The evenings follow a similar format everywhere – everyone gathers and then sits around the table and an appointed person then says the Selkirk Grace is said. This is a well-known thanksgiving said before meals using the Scots language. Although it is attributed to Burns, the Selkirk Grace was already known in the 17th century. It came to be called the Selkirk Grace because Burns was thought to have spoken it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk. Earl of Selkirk.
The Selkirk Grace
Some hae meat an canna eat, Some have meat and cannot eat
And some wad eat that want it; and some would eat that want it
But we hae meat, and we can eat, but we have meat and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
so let the Lord be thanked
Then the meal starts.
This usually has a soup starter (Scots broth, cock-a-leekie or Cullen skink normally).
Then comes the main course of Haggis, tatties and neeps.
At a Burns supper everyone stands while the haggis is brought in on a platter by the chef, preceded by a piper. It is then placed before whoever is acting as host for the evening and s/he performs the “Address to a Haggis”*. As part of this, as the words are spoken “His knife see rustic Labour dicht, the speaker normally draws a knife. At the line An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht, s/he plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly, the “ceremony” is a highlight of the evening. Everyone then toasts the haggis and the meal is served.
Following the main course a dessert course, cheese courses, coffee, etc., are likely to also be part of the meal, usually including traditional Scottish recipes, such as cranachan or tipsy laird (whisky trifle), followed by oatcakes and cheese, all washed down with the “water of life” (uisge beatha) – whisky.
When the meal reaches the coffee stage, various speeches and toasts are given.
Firstly “The Immortal memory”
The main speaker gives a speech remembering some aspect of Burns’s life or poetry. It may be either light-hearted or serious and may include the recitation of a poem or a song by Burns. A toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns then follows.
The Address to the Lassies
This is a short speech given by a male guest in thanks to women, both those who (probably) had prepared the meal, but also a more wide-ranging appreciation of women, following the lead of Robert Burns himself. It is normally amusing and inoffensive.
The men then drink a toast to the women’s health.
The Reply to the Laddies
This is where a female guest gives her views on men in reply to the speech of the previous speaker and is generally quite wide-ranging. It also is likely to be amusing and not offensive and is likely to include comments of Burns’ love of the lassies.
Foreign guests are often invited to sing or say works from their own land too.
Finally, the host will call on the guests to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne to bring the evening to an end.
The address to the haggis is a Burns poem:
“Fair fa'(= befall) your honest, sonsie( = jolly/cheerful) face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon(= above) them a’ (= all )ye tak your place,
Painch (= paunch/stomach), tripe, or thairm (=intestine):
Weel are ye wordy (= worthy )o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies (= buttocks) like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dicht (=wipe or sharpen),
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht(= skill),
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin (= steaming) , rich!
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil (= devil) tak the hindmaist! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d (= swollen) kytes (= bellies) believ (= soon) e ,
Are bent (= tight as) like drums;
Then auld Guidman (= man of the house) , maist like to rive ( = tear),
Is there that o’re his French ragout
Or olio (= stew) that wad staw (= make sick a sow) ,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect scunner scunner (= disgust) ,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve (= fist) a nit (= nut) ;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his wallie (= great) nieve (= fist) a blade,
He’ll mak it whistle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned (= cut off) ,
Like taps o’ thristle (= thistle)
Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware (= watery soup)
That jaups (= slops around) in luggies (= bowl with 2 handles) ;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!