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Burns Night

Every year on 25 January, the presumed birthday of Scotland's best loved bard, Scots everywhere celebrate the life and works of their national icon. Many people attend Burns Suppers, while others spend a quiet night of poetry readings. However it's celebrated, Burns Night has been a part of Scottish culture for over 200 years, the ritual of the Burns Supper having been started by close friends of Burns a few years after his death in 1796.

The Burns Supper

The general format of the Burns Supper has remained unchanged over the years. The meal begins with the Selkirk Grace, after which the haggis is brought in by a chef, lead by a piper. The chairman or invited guest recites Burns' famous poem To a Haggis and cuts open the haggis when he reaches the line 'an cut you up wi ready slight'.

Following the meal, an invited guest gives a short speech on Burns, known as the Immortal Memory speech. This can be literary or light-hearted but the purpose of the speech is to show the greatness of the poet and his relevance today. This is then followed by a 'Toast to the lassies' and the 'response'. Once this part of the evening is complete, the night continues with songs and poems - favourites include Tam o' Shanter, To a Mouse and Holy Willie's Prayer.

The evening ends with all the guests linking hands and singing Auld Lang Syne.

Robert Burns - the man and the poet

Robert Burns' tutor, John Murdoch, said of the young Burns that he 'made rapid progress in reading and was just tolerable at writing'. Little did he know that his young pupil would grow up to be Scotland's national Bard!

Burns was born in Ayrshire in 1759 and was the eldest of seven. His father was a poor tenant farmer but insisted on employing a tutor for Robert and his younger brother. He began writing at the age of 15 in an attempt to find 'some kind of counterpoise for his circumstances' while he was principal worker on his father's farm. His first verse was My Handsome Nell.

Burns abandoned farming after his father's death in 1784, finding that he much preferred the romantic nature of poetry. His first collection was published at this time. It was called Poems - Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect - Kilmarnock Edition - a set of poems based on a broken love affair. He moved to Edinburgh where he quickly became a national celebrity. Although he had become famous, he still did not earn enough to live on and started work as an exciseman. He did, however, continue to write and more than 400 of his poems and songs are still in existence.

Tam O' Shanter and A Red, Red Rose were written during the last years of his life. He died at the age of 37, and more than 10,000 people came to pay their respects on the day of his burial. His popularity has reached even greater heights today than it did when he was alive

January's Scots Poem of the Month was a Burns-themed poem by Mike Cullen, called Acid Burns

Related Links
* The Official Robert Burns site
* The World Burns Club
* Acid Burns - January's Poem of the Month
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