24th January 2013 Yerevan, Armenia
To the Haggis
On Saturday the Armenian British Business Chamber (ABBC) is holding the annual Burns Supper in Yerevan, a tradition now for many years (please see Burns Supper – there are still a few tickets available!).
We are looking forward to this tremendously and are very grateful to the ABBC for its hard work in organising it – and for providing an opportunity to raise funds for some very worthy causes.
The Burns Supper commemorates the birthday of Robert Burns (born 25 January 1721). Robert Burns is known as Scotland’s favourite son – and the national poet of Scotland. The first Burns supper was held after his death by his friends in 1801 as a way of remembering his ‘immortal memory’ and brilliant, humorous poetry and political commentary.
The idea quickly caught on, spread around the world by the entrepreneurial Scottish diaspora, and Burns Suppers are now celebrated in many countries, from the US to Russia to Australia.
There are two essential elements to the Burns Supper: haggis (a Scot’s national dish, a kind of peppery sausage with oatmeal) and humour.
The haggis is piped in to the dining room by a traditional Scottish piper, Burn’s hilarious poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ is read out, and the haggis cut open.
During the meal, there are a number of toasts: a toast to Robert Burns himself, a toast ‘to the Lassies’ (that is, the ladies), and then a ‘Reply from the Lassies’, which makes sure that the gentlemen at the dinner understand who is actually in charge. The event usually concludes with Scottish dancing, and the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”, an old Scottish poem made famous by Burns.
Burn’s poetry can be challenging for even native English speakers, since he wrote both in Scottish and in English with a Scottish dialect. But with a little bit of work, his natural, vigorous, and funny use of words becomes very clear – here’s a translation.
Address to a Haggis
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace As lang’s my arm.
Fair and full is your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
Other brilliant poems include ‘To a Mouse’ – ‘Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!’ (trans: Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast, O, what a panic is in your little breast!) – and ‘My love is like a red, red rose’, a beautiful romantic poem.
As for politics, on the question of Scottish independence both sides claim Burns for their own! As British Ambassador (and about a quarter Scottish) I am glad that I have the chance to celebrate his unique talent on Saturday 26 as well.