Today is a special day for Scots all over the world.
January 25 is Burns Night, when we celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard, who was born on this day in 1759.
The most famous event to commemorate Burns is the Burns supper. It is a traditional meal of cock-a-leekie-soup, haggis, tatties and neeps, and of course, lots of whisky.
Haggis, for those uninitiated in this singularly delicacy, is made from the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep mixed with onion, oats and spices, and cooked in the sheep’s stomach. (It tastes much better than it sounds.)
Today is also the anniversary of the foundation of São Paulo, and a local holiday, so I held my own Burns night at home last night.
Armed with two beautiful haggis (that were, as per the usual specifications, warm, reekin’ and rich), and also with specially imported tins of fragrant orange turnips (which you can’t get in Brazil), a group of friends met and were treated to an introductory course in Burns.
At formal Burns Nights there are a series of traditions, that include speeches, bagpipes and of course the reading of Burns’ famous poem, Address to a Haggis.
I didn’t have any bagpipes so the haggis was instead carried triumphantly into the room to another quintissentially Scottish sound, the music of The Proclaimers.
Then I read the homage to the national dish (that’s me in the photo on the right reading the poem) and explained a little about Burns to my guests, most of whom did not know him.
This is what I wrote about him in this Time magazine piece three years ago about putting on a Burns Night in Brazil:
“The Brazilians in the room knew little about the man and were shocked to know that it was Burns who wrote Auld Lang Syne, the global hymn of friendship and farewell. Still, it’s not hard to identify with a man whose most celebrated traits were his humanity and his romance. Burns was first and foremost a man of the people, and much of his poetry is about life’s cruel injustices. One of his most famous works is To a Mouse, written after seeing a field mouse almost cut down by a farmer’s plough.”
Just as happened three years ago, the Brazilians took to haggis with a gusto and they were both quickly gone.
To my surprise, haggis found a new international audience. And Burns did too.