In my office, we have a few Scottish lassies. One year, they sent out an email to everyone inviting us to partake in a glass of whisky up on the top floor to celebrate Robert Burns. I had no idea who this Burns guy was or why they were celebrating him. Fast forward to this past January and I figured out the mystery of Mr. Burns.
My friend Hilary has a little Scottish in her and she has some friends with some Scottish in them too and she’s always up for a little culture, as am I. So she and her husband Nathan just decided to throw a Burns night and invite whoever was up for a “weird, historical tradition.” All I knew from her invitation was that there would be a Scottish menu, bagpipes starting at seven, scotch, whisky, and that I was required to show up in plaid. Needles to say, I was intrigued.
For those of you who are in the dark about Robert Burns as much as I was before my initiation here’s the rundown. Robert Burns was a much-loved poet from Scotland. You know the song Auld Lang Syne that we sing on New Years’ Eve? Yeah, he wrote the words. When Robert passed away in 1796, his friends held a dinner on his birthday, January 25th, to honor his memory. Ever since then, Burns devotees celebrate his life every January 25th.
When I arrived at Hilary and Nathan’s apartment, wearing my plaid of course, we were greeted with drinks to get the night started. Whisky is usually the drink of of choice for the Scottish on such a night and for those of us who couldn’t drink whisky straight up, we had two cocktails to choose from. One drink was called ‘The Bobby Burns’ which I was told could seriously grow some hair on your chest and the other was called ‘The Selkirk Sparkler.’ The lassies at our celebration chose the latter as we didn’t really want hair on our chest.
To offset the whisky, we snacked on some cheese and crackers before the main event, tartan table runner included.
Before we could dive into our dinner, we had to follow order and tradition! The bagpipes started, or in our case the Red Hot Chili Pipers began to play on iTunes, we said grace and I had the honor of addressing the haggis as it was brought into the room and placed on our table. I read the Scottish version which had a lot of complicated words and I got through it and somehow managed to have a Scottish twang too. Once I got to the end of the long address, I realized that the English version was at the bottom. I guess if I’m going to be Scottish for a night I might as well go all out.
A traditional Burns night menu includes that great Scottish delight, haggis. Haggis is essentially sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs mashed together with different spices and onions and such. Hilary and Nathan weren’t quite prepared to cook such a thing and I don’t think the guests were quite prepared to eat it so they made a ‘vegetarian haggis’ which consisted of lentils. What can I say, we’re wimps! But all of the food was so good and also included some bangers and mash and greens. We then had the sweet Millionaire’s Shortbread with caramel and chocolate for dessert. I ate that dish too fast so I don’t have a picture.
After dinner, the gents at the celebration took an awfully long time to huddle and compose the traditional toast to the lassies. We lassies couldn’t possibly understand what was taking them so long and wondered what they were planning. It gave us girls time to catch up on our gossip and knowledge of one Kate Middleton. For reals. When they finally came out and started reciting their toast, it took us lassies a couple of minutes to realize they were reciting the verses from ‘Spice Up Your Life’ by the Spice Girls which sounds really classy and poetic when spoken on Burns Night. You should try it. The lassies replied with a short and sweet ‘thank you.’
The night got even better when we cleared the table and played the card game ‘Spoons.’ Have you played it? It has nothing to do with Robert Burns. We all sat in a circle, each of us with six cards in our hand at a time, passing one card at a time around the circle. Each person can choose to pick up the card or pass it along, so long as they always have six cards in their hand, no more or less, until they have a four of a kind in their hand. Once that happens, that person with the lucky hand can grab one of a handful of spoons placed in the middle. All of the other players have to be quick and grab a spoon too once the first person grabs a spoon and whoever is left empty-handed is out of the game. It’s kind of like musical chairs but with cards and it can get pretty feisty! I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time and I don’t remember the last time my friends and I just hung out at someone’s house and played cards. It’s so simple yet is often neglected for dinners out.
We couldn’t end the night without listening to Auld Lang Syne plus multiple covers of the song. Save yourselves the torture and don’t listen to Mariah Carey’s version. I didn’t know what to expect from Burns Night but I’m glad I went and now I have such good memories. I can’t wait for Burns Night 2016!