Auld Lang Syne: Our toast to Robert Burns
The confetti has fallen, the champagne bottles have been consumed, the ball in Times Square has dropped, and you may still have, the song, “Auld Lang Syne” ringing in your ears. You have famed Scottish poet, Robert Burns, to thank for that. Since the 1700s when the poem was written, these humble words have gradually transformed into the format we know today: The most renowned soundtrack to welcome the new year every December 31st. If you’re Scottish - or a fan of Scottish culture, the celebration has just begun! Around January 25th (the poet's birthday), we celebrate the life of this Scottish poet and his contributions to Scottish culture. The celebration is fondly known as the “Burns Supper.”
1. Celebrate the way Scots have celebrated for years
For those of you who will join us on January 23rd for Burns celebrations held at Mohonk Mountain House and Dutchess County, you’re in for the quintessential Scottish evenings packed full of Scottish tradition celebrated through music, dance, cuisine, and poetry. "Be prepared for a good time with lots of beautiful poetry, traditional Scottish music and dance...and that the haggis isn't as bad as it may seem! Slánte!", says Shot of Scotch dancer, Abi Rosenberger. Regardless of the Burns Supper you attend, get ready to…
For those of us who have been raised in the Scottish community, the format of the evening will be nostalgically familiar, bringing back fond memories of previous years. Many of you first attended a Burn Supper before you were fully aware of the ingredients of haggis. In fact, Shot of Scotch dancer, Emily Ritter, has been attending Burns Suppers with her family "since the age of seven". Shot of Scotch dancer, Kendra Monroe, added that “the Burns Supper was always the thing I looked forward to after Christmas and New Years passed and perfect for all ages!”
2. Haggis: The Star of the Show
After a warm welcome from a kilted Master of Ceremonies, the traditional platter of haggis is formally presented to attendees in chorus with bagpipes playing a traditional Scottish tune, and a decanter or quaich of whiskey follows closely behind. Abi remembers, “a fellow dancer and myself got to carry in the tray of scotch behind the haggis one year! It was like being in a little ‘haggis parade’! We were too young to taste the scotch, but it was fun being a part of the precession.”
3. Toast Burns
A reading of Burns’ poem, “Address to the Haggis” follows the grand entrance of the main course. “The more dramatically delivered, the better”, says Kendra. After a commemorative toast to the haggis, the meal is served with buttery mashed neeps and tatties. This is the highlight of the evening for many, according to Shot of Scotch dancer, Marjorie Stewart, stating, “I always loved when they piped the haggis in! Then someone would read a speech to the haggis and everyone would take a shot of whisky!”.
4. Expand your Palate
Haggis is one of those national dishes that is both treasured and criticized by natives, and sometimes horrifies people who hear it described for the first time. For those of you not quite warmed up to the idea of haggis, you’re not alone. Take dancer, Abi’s experience, “I didn't go near it the first few times that I attended Burns night! And when i finally did it actually wasn't as bad as I expected!” Kendra added, “It can be so good, but don’t spend too much time thinking about the ingredients.”
5. Immerse Yourself in Traditional Scottish Entertainment
Following the meal, is when the real entertainment begins! Several more poems are read, music is played,and dances are performed. Being one of the most recognizable Scottish Highland dances, the Sword dance is performed most often if Highland dancing takes place. Shot of Scotch dancer, Libby Maylen, remembers, “When I was 10 I was about to do the Sword Dance. My teacher introduced the dance to the audience by explaining the historical superstition that if a dancer touched the sword, it was an omen to soldiers that they would die in battle the next day. Not even a full minute into the dance, I kicked the sword well across the stage. It was a memorable performance, for both me, and the entire first row of whisky enthusiasts.”
6. Belt out your Goodbye
As the supper draws to a close, all attendees gather side by side in a large circle facing inward with arms crossed holding hands with those next to you singing the words to "Auld Lang Syne". “The sense of community and tradition in that moment is so strong”, says Kendra, “It really is something everyone in the room feels.” As Marjorie eloquently stated, “In today’s fast paced world with gadgets stealing our attention, it’s important to remember a simpler time when people spoke to one another, cooked traditional meals, and enjoyed family and community.”
Don’t Miss out!
With only a couple of weeks away, find a Burns Supper in your area. These events have quite a following, so secure your entrance early! If you are in the NYC area, you can see Shot of Scotch perform at the Mohonk Mountain House: Scottish Weekend and the Dutchess County Scottish Society Burns Supper! Brush up on your Robert Burns trivia and dust off your tartan garments for a evening of Scottish music, food, and dance! Marjorie added “Dress sharp but conservative and wear tartan”. While Libby simply put it, “tartan from head to toe!”, though you don’t have to take her literally.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?
- Robert Burns