The Story of... Burns Night



2015-06-26 11:48:41

The Story of... Burns Night

On January 25, millions worldwide will celebrate the birthday of Scotland's Bard, Robert Burns

He is known as "Scotland's favourite son", the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire and, in his native Scotland, as simply The Bard.

Robert Burns remains Scotland's pre-eminent poet and, on January 25, millions of people around the world will celebrate Burns Night to markthe anniversary of his birth.

Burns' statue in Dumfries town centre Burns' statue in Dumfries town centre

Burns Night has been celebrated for over two centuries. But why, you may ask, has the history of Burn's Night endured so widely, and for so long?

One answer is, of course, his writing.

John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men, from a Burns Poem.

And folk legend Bob Dylan highlighted Burns' 1794 song, A Red Red Rose, as the lyric that had the biggest effect on his life.

Even in Russia, Burns was elected the 'people's poet' and a 1924 translation of his works sold over 600,000 copies. His poetry continues to be taught in Russian schools.

For another answer, look no further than New Year's Eve.

"And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne..." - from Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

Burns is most commonly known as the author of Auld Lange Syne, the song used to greet the New Year by English speakersacross the globe.

The song is a true anthem, containing a universal truth: the past is forever gone, but should never be forgotten.

Auld Lang Syne's underlying theme, of making the harsh realities of life more palatable through the company of good friends and good drink, is quintessentially Scottish.

And it would have been this theme that a select group of Burns' friends had in mind when they celebrated the very first Burns Supper in 1801, five years after his death.

Celebrating their friend'spassing in such as way was noble and poignant, particularly when considering his tragic and awful demise.

The famous 'Burns Bible'

The famous Burns Bible, recently sold for 25,000

"An illness which has long hung about me... will speedily send me beyond that bourne whence no traveller returns... Farewell!!" - a letter written by Burns in his final days

Burns' death is understood to have been caused by a chronic heart complaint.

Unfortunately, his end was worsened by 19th century misdiagnosis.

Mistakinghis condition for gout,Burns' person physician advised his patient to travel to Brow Well, a mineral spring near Dumfries inScotland.

There, the treatments - includingdrinking and bathing in the foul-tasting cold spring waters - only worsened Burns' condition.

As his health deteriorated, he began to age prematurely and would fall into fits of despondency, with only his battered Bible for comfort.

Four days after leaving Brow Well, Burns died aged just 37.

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!" - a line from Burns' Odeto Haggis

Inits early years, Burns Night was held on the date ofthe poet'sdeath: July 21, 1796.

However, as Robert Burns became a recognised Scottish institution, and Burns Nightevolved into anation's pastime, the celebration was moved to his birthday: January 25, 1759.

Burns Night itself, and the Burns Supper, includes various established traditions.

These included the eating of haggis - originally Burns' friends' tribute to his famous Ode to Haggis- along with neeps and tatties, to complimentthe haggis'spiciness.

Traditionally, the Burns Supper is held with everyone sat around a table. After a few words welcoming everyone are spoken, grace is usually said - normally, the Selkirk Grace.

"Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit...." - from the Selkirk Grace

The Selkirk Grace, so-called because Burns was said to have delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk, precedes a soup course.

Later, when the tables are cleared after the meal, the host proposes The Loyal Toast, often honouring the Head of State (for example, The Queen in the UK).

Then comesthe Immortal Memory, a short, lively speech about Robert Burns himself.Featuring tributes toBurns' life and works, it ends with a toast to his immortal memory.

 The Macallan's whisky tribute to Robert Burns, limited to 250 bottles

Aside fromthe enduring popularity of Burns night, various memorabilia recent sales, both at auction and on the private market, have demonstrated that Burns' legacy isalso immortal.

Last year, having been unseen in public since 1896, one of the most important pieces of Burns memorabiliaappeared on the private market.

The famous Burns' Bible, clutched by the poet at Brow Well as his main comfort duringhis final days, wasrecently soldby Paul Fraser Collectiblesfor 25,000 ($41,250).

And, earlier in 2009, a retired professor became the new patron of Burns' best known creation: the origional Auld Lang Syne manuscript itself.

Themanuscript"sold" at auction for 10,000 to Professor David Purdie. Purdiewill remainAuld Lang Syne'scustodian while it is held in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Folk legend Bob Dylan Folk legend Bob Dylan has cited Burns as a major influence

Elsewhere in the collectors' markets, the renowned Macallan distillery released a new whisky marking the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth.

Limited to just 250 bottles- from two casks chosen by The Macallan's whisky maker Bob Dalgarno, onefrom 1997 and one from 1998 -each wasnumbered 1759, the date of Burns' birth.

The whisky is rare: a sherry oak expression with an ABV of 46%,according toWhisky Intelligence. It is soldin a specially-designed decanter.

In England, Burns has been honoured on postage stamps three times, and is now portrayed on the reverse side of the 5 coin.

While, in his homeland of Scotland, he is pictured on the 5 note of the Clydesdale Bank.

And, in addition to these memorabilia, thereremains Burns Night: still celebrated each year by native Scotsmen and expats all over the world.

For as long as Burns' literary legacy and his message -to remember our common humanity -live on, the celebrations of his life and works will continue.

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