Long-time readers of my blog may recall that I identify with my Scottish heritage. I had a chance to celebrate that recently by attending Robert Burns Night, which was organized by the Duluth Scottish Heritage Association (DSHA).
Robert Burns is a well-know historic Scottish poet. If you’ve ever sung Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, you have him to thank. His birthday is recognized on January 25 by Scots, rather in the tradition of Christ’s birth on December 25 by parts of the world, if you’ll permit me a bit of sacrilege.
The celebration was held at a historic club downtown. This was not my first Robert Burns Night. My mother took me to one held at the university many years ago. Then last year, Russ and I ordered a takeout Robert Burns dinner from the club since there was no gathering due to the pandemic. That “dinner” fed us for four days! It featured neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), haggis (more about that later), black pudding (blood sausage), Scotch eggs (hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat, breaded and fried), and trifle for dessert (a decadent concoction of cake cubes layered between berries, pears, and vanilla pudding mixed with whipped cream).
Attendance was larger than usual for Burns Night this year because it was the first time in three years it had been held in person. One-hundred-and-sixty of us gathered in kilts and clan scarves to listen to bagpipes and watch Scottish dancers.
After that came the formal part of the program, which included 4 toasts of scotch: One to “the immortal memory of Robert Burns,” one to the president, one to the king, and one in Gaelic.
Then came the star of the show, the Haggis. This traditional dish takes minced sheep heart, liver, and lungs, and mixes it with oatmeal, suet and spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander, plus salt, pepper and stock. The mixture is boiled in a bag, usually made from a sheep’s stomach. We love it. I’d say it tastes like a chunky beef barley stew.
The Haggis is paraded into the hall by the chef and a whisky bearer, led by a piper in formality that would border on the absurd if it weren’t Robert Burns Night. Once the Haggis was settled up front, one of the DSHA members recited Burns’s “Address to the Haggis,” which involved stabbing it with a large knife and inhaling its pungent vapors.
After that, a local reverend offered grace and a piper in the rafters played “Amazing Grace.” Then we dispersed to seven clan rooms. Each featured different foods to sample and memorabilia specific to each clan. One room featured scotch. I was disappointed at the lack of trifle this year, but our enterprising friends found dessert bars on a different floor.
After much eating and conversation, a ceilidh dance was held in a large lounge room. Even though I’ve been to a ceilidh before, it wasn’t until that night that I learned (from overhearing a conversation) that ceilidh means “party” or “social visit.” We danced and listened to Scottish music performed by a live band.
We were sated and pleasantly tired from dancing once the evening ended. We felt like we’d been on a trip to Scotland without leaving the comfort of our own city. If you ever have the chance to attend Robert Burns Night, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s a spectacle, indeed.