Burns Supper Stories
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What's the story behind your Burns Supper? Was there any particular Burns Supper that was particularly memorable -- for, perhaps, no particular reason?

Did you know that the apparent formality of the piping-in of the haggis and so on was originally meant as a bit of a joke? Details later...


Burns Festival, Scarboro, 1861

The demonstration in honour of the one hundred and second birthday of Robert Burns, the peasant bard of Scotland, came off  at Secor's Hall, Malvern, on the 25th of January with great eclat, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, which during the whole of the previous day blew a perfect hurricane of wind and snow, blocking up in many places the public thoroughfares and rendering them almost impassable.

The hall was tastefully decorated with evergreens. At the time appointed, 2 o'clock pm, about 130 ladies and gentlemen sat down to a sumptuous repast which reflected much to the credit of Mr. Tod, confectioner, Markham Village, and to which ample justice was done. Mr. Tod was happily assisted in his preparations by Mr. Duncan Malcolm, merchant, Malvern, who amongst other necessaries provided that desirable beverage, the tea, concerning which an excellent old lady was heard to observe, "the very smell of it did her guid".

After tea had been partaken of, Mr. Alexander Muir occupied the chair, supported by Rev. Jas. Bain, Messrs. John Hogg, Jas. Dimma Sr., James Tran and George McKinnell, Esq.   John Gibson Esq. occupied the vice-chair supported by Messrs. Geo. Titsbury, Jas Lawrie, Wm. Purdie, and Andrew Paterson Esq. 

Toasts were given by the chairman to the Queen, The Prince Consort, the Prince of Wales and the rest of the Royal Family, the Administrator of the Government, followed after a few preliminary remarks by a toast to "The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns", which was received with loud and prolonged cheering. The Rev. Jas. Bain responded, dwelling at considerable length on some of the peculiarities of the Scottish peasantry -- their patriotism, their love of learning, and their unflinching love of their religion -- that these sentiments did not belong to the male proportion of the Scottish peasantry alone, but fired and inspired the heart of that gentler being, woman.

After Mr. Hogg sang in his usual excellent and comic style "The Miller of Fife", received with cheers and roars of laughter, more toasts followed, given by the chairman to the Poets of Scotland, Wordsworth and the Poets of England, Thomas More and the Poets of Ireland. During the giving and the responses to these toasts, more songs were sung: "Teddy the Tiler" by the chairman, "St. Patrick was a Gentleman" by Mr. Hogg, "Robert Tamson's Smiddy" by Mr. Titsbury, "We're all Calculating" by Mr. Earnshaw, "Bungari" by Mr. Dimma.  The vice-chairman gave an excellent speech "Success to the Agricultural Societies of Canada". A song by James Tran, Esq, "Rule Britannia: Britons Never shall be Slaves" brought the chairman to his feet who, in a feeling speech, alluded to the case of the slave Anderson, now so unjustly immured within the walls of our Canadian jails. The mention of Anderson's case went like an electric shock to the heart of everyone present and the words of Burns were keenly felt, "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn". The Vice-Chairman then took the floor and, in a speech which will be long remembered for its eloquence, for its manly and christian sentiments, pleaded the case of his poor dark skinned brother, Anderson, resuming his seat amidst a burst of applause.

At this stage of the proceedings, supper was announced, which was served up in excellent style by Mr. Secor. The festive board was graced with a genuine "haggis". Great thanks are due to Mr. James Lawrie, Esq. and to his lady and Mrs. Fleming for preparing it.

After supper, the youngsters tripped it on the light fantastic toe, whilst the auld folk spent the evening 'wi crack  and sang'.

At the 'wee hour ayoun the twal', the company broke up, each to his 'ain house'. All shared in the belief that such meetings tend to strengthen the bonds of friendship and cordiality, and have no sympathy for those whose stubbornness will not allow them to attend such meetings.

The following were apparently among those who spoke or gave toasts: John McMurrick Esq., the Rev. Messrs. Bain, Gordon, Hill, Fletcher, Dr. Skinner and Hons. Geo. Brown and David Reesor.

The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #12

The Christmas Revels

One of the Bay Area’s most popular holiday celebrations - The Christmas Revels - explores how the Winter Solstice has been celebrated in a different time or place. Now in its 19th season, this year’s show will draw especially on Scottish heritage, featuring stirring vocal and instrumental music, traditional dance, and story-telling in the glorious Scottish tradition. Revels’ shows draw on an unbeatable combination of elements: time-honored rituals, traditional dances, folk plays, holiday music performed by a lively and talented cast of adults and children from throughout the Bay Area.

As always, Revels has sought out native "tradition-bearers" and world-class guest artists. Featured performers will include soprano Susan Rode Morris, storyteller and musician Kevin Carr, early music specialist Chris Caswell, singer Wendell Brooks, The Solstice Singers, The Revels’ Highland Dancers and over twenty of the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers.

The celebration of the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, is at the heart of Revels. Despite "Christmas" in the title, this is not a religious pageant, but rather a unique seasonal celebration that is inclusive and meaningful to the community at large, regardless of background. "The experience of coming together to sing and dance and perform rituals has real power to affect us - to bring us into some form of harmony with ourselves, with each other, and even with nature itself. That’s why people come back year after year - and that’s why Revels keeps growing," says Revels Artistic Director Elizabeth Mayer.

The Revels will offer ten performances over two weekends, at Oakland’s Scottish Rite Theatre, 1547 Lakeside Drive, December 10-12 and December 17-19. Tickets $15 - $42. Discounts for groups, seniors, and children under 12. More info at www.calrevels.org or call Telesails at 415-773-1181. For Group Sales and Special Needs, call the Revels office at 510-893-9853.

The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #10

Burns Supper -- Freestyle!
Tartan Dinner Group -- Marin County, California

I too, shall be celebrating Rabbie's birth today [Jan. 25 2004]. "The Tartan Dinner" Group, for which I am host, will hold its "5th Annual Bobbie Burns Dinner" at 5:30 pm at a local restaurant. Before ye begin to shudder and cringe at the use of "Bobbie," instead of Robert, Robbie, or Rabbie.... please consider that Burns would be amused at our reason.

We are a loose knit group with no organization, no leaders, no officers, no newsletters, no structure, no dues to pay or rules to follow. We meet once a month, on the fourth Sunday of every month [aha -- a rule!] to come together as folks interested in all things Scots.

Some are involved with the Scottish Games -- some attend them and others have never been. One is a weaver, one is Tannist to a Scottish Clan, one an Irish Chieftain, one is president of a Scottish Clan, one is expert in old weaponry and collector of swords and wearer of authentic philibeg and other more period clothing. Some are former residents of Glasgow, visitors to Brig' o' Doon, Kilmarnock, Dean Castle, the Goldberry Inn, the Laigh Kirk. Others are dreamers of one day going to Scotland.  And others are just looking for a guid excuse to don their kilt somewhere other than the Scottish games in order to become more accustomed to and comfortable with wearing it in public.

Most of us have never been to a formal "Robert Burns Dinner", and we are not a "stuffy enough" group to insist on formal attire for our evening. Many have never been to a "Robbie Burns Dinner" either. In consideration of our loosely knit group, joined only by the love of Scotland, these dinners and the occasional email reminding when to show up, not knowing enough about the bard or his works, trying to wade through reading and pronouncing the poems as, truly, only Americans can slaughter so well -- we chose to use the least formal, and the most familiar form of the name Robert to honor Burns on his birthday. And so was born our "Bobbie Burns Dinner."

'Tis more important for us to gather in his honor, no matter the dress or the pronounciation of his poems. We do get more "dressed up" for this evening... one year a fellow wore a Tux-tee shirt -- the formal shirt having been drawn on the informal... others do wear their finest Scottish clothing they have and new folk come as they are. Alas, so far our piper has not yet found us and we must rely on CD for music.

The first year we began this group and celebrated the Bard's birthday, I assured the then hosts that we Boyds would bring the Haggis. It seemed only right as Rabbie had spent time in Kilmarnock House and an original work and pen are at Dean Castle, ancestral home of the Boyds. And so it became my responsibility each year.... and I ended up inheriting the title of host when the young men that began the group moved away.

We begin our evening with someone doing the Address to the Haggis, then ask if there are any that have not yet had the pleasure of trying haggis and have them come forward. Then with cameras at the ready, we memorialize the deflowering of the "Haggis Virgins" with a photo. It serves for some as proof that they have indeed tasted the puddin' and need never do so again! And for others it marks the occasion of when their passion for the dish begins. The restaurant owner, manager and crew are invited to come join us in our Haggis and much is sent back for the cooks to enjoy. They look forward to this night as much as we do each year!

We spend a few hours taking up a third or so of the restaurant, muddling our way through Burns poetry as best we can and laughing at our attempt and the puzzled look on other's faces, knowing full well, they doona understand a word being read! And we end our evening with singing together "Flower of Scotland" and "Old Lang Syne."

Yours Aye,
Lauren M. Boyd, FSA Scot
President, House of Boyd Society
Host, Tartan Dinner Group -- Marin County, California, USA

The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #1