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The day the world eats haggis

Most common in Scotland and Northern Ireland, on Jan. 25 people celebrate the life of the poet Robert Burns with Scottish food, whiskey and poetry, then toast—or roast—the opposite sex, at a Burns Supper that includes “piping of the haggis.”

By Britt Olson MSN Living Editor Jan 25, 2013 5:32PM

“But if ye wish her grateful prayer, give her a haggis!”

The concluding injunction to Robert Burns' poem Address to a Haggis will be echoed with whiskey breath around the world today, Jan. 25, during annual Burns Suppers, also called Burns Nights, held in private homes and clubs throughout the world. (The event is more widely celebrated in Scotland than St. Andrew’s Day, the national holiday.)

Photo: VisitBritain/Britain on View/Getty ImagesScottish whiskey and poems will flow in celebration of the 18th century Scottish poet who penned the famous lyric poems Auld Lang Syne, A Red, Red Rose and Tom o’ Shanter.

But honoring the “ploughman’s poet,” a man who shaped and saved the Scottish tongue--opinions vary on that legacy--won’t be the only thing on the evening’s itinerary. Traditional Burns Suppers abide by a strict and somewhat silly agenda.

After the host delivers a welcome address, all attendants say the Selkirk Grace, a traditional Scottish dinner prayer attributed to Burns.

The “piping of the haggis” follows; bagpipes wheeze and wail while diners recite poems from Burns’ oeuvre. All poem readings are dramatic, incorporating real or feigned Scottish accents.

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Then Address to a Haggis is read while the master of ceremonies carves the haggis. A toast is made to the haggis, acknowledging its contribution to the night's literary event.

Tartan clad feasters tuck into dishes of the savory pudding, tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips), birdies (meat pies) and cullen skink (fish stew).

After supping, an attendee gives a speech of “immortal memory” celebrating Burns’ life (he was a ladies man from a poor farming family) and his work (he was a chronicler and major contributor to both the Scottish and Romantic traditions). A thanks is given to the speaker and a toast drank to Burns.

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The “toast to the lassies,” a comic or serious homage paid to the ladies in attendance by the gents, follows. A drink to the health of the females concludes this portion of the program. But wait, the women must reply with a “toast to the lads,” and another drink.

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As the night becomes more booze-fueled, further toasts and readings of poetry, not limited to Burns’ works, usually become more animated while the accents become less comprehensible.

Naturally the supper must include with the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

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Photo: VisitBritain/Britain on View/Getty Images

 

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