Happy Burns Night!

As if the Scots needed another excuse to get drunk.

As if the Scots needed another excuse to get drunk.

If there’s one thing the Scottish are known for it’s…well, depending who you ask it really could be golf, cheapness, tartan, or drinking (if you can combine all four, more power to you.) But if we had to pick one, we’ll go with drinking, and while the Scots drink the other 364 nights of the year, January 25 is the one that trumps all others. Tonight, you see, Scots around the globe will be raising a glass of whisky (never “whiskey” when Scotland’s involved) to Robert Burns, the nation’s most famous poet. What is Burns Night, you ask? Burns himself — a romantic, drunken wild man who also happened to write such songs and poems as Auld Lang Syne — was born on January 25, 1749, and for as long as anyone can remember, Scots have celebrated his birth through a highly ritualized dinner involving drinking, poetry, drinking, the consumption of dodgy (but delicious) dishes, drinking, singing, and drinking. The night’s festivities include Burns’ “Ode to Haggis”:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,

Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!

Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy of a grace

As lang’s my arm

The groaning trencher there ye fill,

Your hurdies like a distant hill,

You pin wad help to mend a mill

In time o’need

While thro’ your pores the dews distil

Like amber bead

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,

An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,

Trenching your gushing entrails bright

Like onie ditch;

And then, O what a glorious sight,

Warm-reeking, rich!

Then, horn for horn they stretch an’ strive,

Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,

Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve

Are bent like drums;

Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive

Bethankit hums

Is there that owre his French ragout,

Or olio that wad staw a sow,

Or fricassee wad mak her spew

Wi’ perfect sconner,

Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view

On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,

As feckless as a wither’d rash

His spindle-shank a guid whip-lash,

His nieve a nit;

Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,

O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,

He’ll mak it whissle;

An’ legs, an’ arms an’ heads will sned,

Like taps o’ thrissle

Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,

An’ dish them out their bill o’fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware

That jaups in luggies;

But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,

Gie her a Haggis!

You understood all that right? Poetry! Poetry about what some consider the most stomach-churning confection in the Western world! Anyway, what we’re getting at here is that this is an even better excuse than usual to spend your Friday night drinking yourself under the table. Having been born in Scotland — but living now in New York — I’ll be celebrating in style at the James Beard House, where I plan to spend an evening that will leave me in pain for the rest of January, but will certainly be worth it. As for you, raise a glass, and if you have a chance, at least try some haggis. It’s really not so bad.

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