How to Robbie Burns Day

Christmas has wrapped up, and the hangover from New Year’s has faded away, leaving only the overcast dreariness of January in Vancouver. Fortunately, Robbie Burns Day is just around the corner to alleviate the winter blues with haggis, scotch and highland dancing.

For the uninitiated and un-Scottish, this lesser known holiday may be intimidating. The traditional celebration involves a reading of Burns’ most famous works, a ceremonial haggis sword cutting, and plenty of dancing and bagpiping. All of this can be a bit culturally overwhelming. Reading up on a little bit of history and tradition will get you more comfortable throwing down with the Scots. Keeping up with their scotch intake is on you though.

According to Darryl Carracher, general manager of Vancouver’s Scottish Cultural Centre, Robbie Burns is “probably the most famous Scot in history.” Born in 1759, Burns was a poet who wrote political and civil commentary, and “rebelled against the establishment.”

“He was a democrat, he was someone who wrote for the common person,” said Leith Davis, director at the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. “And it was a time when it wasn’t really very safe to be a democrat.”

Tradition is important when properly celebrating Robbie Burns Day. “There’s a kind of a ritual that people have with particular speeches that go in a particular order,” said Davis.

Haggis is the main dish that will be served, but not before Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis is recited to the gathered.

“If it is done properly people will act the poem out,” said Carracher.

Once the address has been made, the first cut of the haggis is done with a ceremonial sword. There will be all sorts of live entertainment throughout the night, including highland dancing and bagpiping. If you are a bit apprehensive about showing off your non-existent highland dance skills, there will be plenty of scotch flowing to provide that extra kick of liquid courage.

On Jan. 23, the Centre for Scottish Studies will be hosting a Robbie Burns Day celebration at the Harbour Centre, starting at noon.

“This year we’re doing a mass singing and recitation,” Davis said. “And we’ll have the haggis and all that, but we’ll be doing things a little bit differently than the traditional celebration.”

So get out of the house, jump into a kilt and go celebrate Scotland’s most famous son. What else are you going to do in January?

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