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Tag: Robert Burns

Scottish Traditions: Burn’s Night

Burns Night

Burns Night is a traditional celebration of Scotland’s national bard, or poet, Robert Burns. It is held on 25th January, Burns’s birthday, when Burns suppers are held. They consist of a meal, poetry recitals and songs. The first supper was held at Burns Cottage by his friends on 21st July 1801, the fifth anniversary of his death.

If you think that you don’t know any of Burns’s work, ask yourself if you have ever sung Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay/New Year’s Eve or used the lines “My love is like a red, red rose” on a Valentine card. If you have then you are familiar with some of his best-known work. Burns wrote his first poem aged 15 and in his short life wrote a vast number of songs and poems that can be accessed here. He wrote in a light Scots dialect which was easier for those outside Scotland to understand and often wrote about very humble subjects, for example, his poem “To a Mouse” is inspired by the field mice Burns saw while ploughing on his farm.

The Life of Robert Burns

Burns was born on 25th January 1759 in Alloway south of Ayr, the son of poor tenant farmers. He received little regular schooling, but his father taught him to read and write along with arithmetic, history and geography. He was also taught Latin, French and maths by John Murdoch.

For much of his life Burns, like his father, was a tenant farmer, all the while writing poetry and songs. But he struggled to make a living from farming and when he was offered a position on a plantation in Jamaica, he decided to emigrate. He could not afford the passage and a friend suggested he try to publish some of his work to raise the funds. In 1786 Poems in the Scottish Dialect was published and became an immediate success. Later that year Burns left for Edinburgh to publish a second edition which again was successful and earned him a substantial sum of money. He was well received in Edinburgh, often a guest of aristocracy, and made many friends, some becoming sponsors.

In 1787 Burns returned to southwest Scotland taking a lease on a farm in Dumfriesshire, but he also trained as an exciseman in case the farm was unsuccessful. He gave up farming in 1791 and moved to Dumfries where he made contributions to several volumes of songs, sometimes adding his own lyrics to traditional folk melodies and composing his own melodies from fragments of tunes. He continued to write poetry too, some advocating reform such as “The Slaves Lament”.

He continued to work as an exciseman, often making long journeys on horseback in all weathers and this may have contributed to his ill-health at a rather young age for the time. On 21st July 1796 Burns died aged just 37.  His body lies in the Burns Mausoleum is St. Michael’s Kirkyard, Dumfries along with that of his wife at the time, Jean Armour.

Burns is renowned for having had many romantic relationships which resulted in several children being born, although not all survived infancy. Today over 900 people worldwide claim to be descendants of Burns.

Host your own Burns Night

Due to covid-19 restrictions, many Burn’s suppers will be cancelled this year, but you could host your own with your household.

Need some inspiration to host your own Burns Supper? Why not try out some Burns Night recipes here. Penguin books have a guide on how to run your night and for inspiration, you can listen to or read some of Burns’s work through our Library.

By Vivienne Hamilton

Learn about other World traditions on our blog by reading:

New Year Traditions from Around the World

Spanish Christmas Traditions

New Year Traditions from Around the World

World New Year Traditions

A lump of coal just won’t cut it anymore. I need a more carbon-neutral gift to take to my neighbours at New Year, and you don’t get much more carbon-laden than a lump of coal. I started to wonder if there were any tips I could pick up from revellers around the world. My research didn’t offer up any gifts, but I did find some interesting traditions – some quite quirky – that I may adopt.

Japan

Let’s start in the land of the rising sun.  Joya-no-kane is the ancient Japanese tradition of ringing temple bells. The bell is typically rung 107 times on 31st December and once more when the clock strikes midnight. According to Buddhist philosophy, 108 is a holy number, representing as it does the 108 material desires that humans experience throughout the course of their lives. When the bell is struck for the 108th time, it is believed it rings away the problems and worries from the previous year. Many temples attract huge crowds of worshippers on these occasions. The Chion-in temple in Kyoto and Nara’s Todaiji temple are famous for their gigantic bells, the ringing of which requires the efforts of more than a dozen monks.

Brazil

Down in Brazil a rowdier, yet no less spiritual tradition, is unfolding as the goddess Iemanjá, Queen of the Ocean, rises out of the sea in Rio de Janeiro (in the form of a human representative). Revellers flock to the beach as fireworks explode overhead and samba music fills the air. Up to 2 million people, typically wearing white as a sign of peace, place white flowers and floating candles on the shore and send them out as offerings to the goddess, hoping that she’ll grant their wishes in the new year.  But beware – if your offer is washed back to you, Iemanjá is not pleased and may not grant your wish.

Costa Rica

Moving north, and those Costa Ricans really know how to celebrate. You’re welcome to join in as they feast all night and party on the beach. Make sure you dress for the occasion, though – and that means wearing yellow underwear for good luck. Oh, and don’t forget to throw a pan of water – containing all your worries – over your shoulder. The most endearing Costa Rican tradition, in my opinion, is the practice of taking a suitcase for a walk around the neighbourhood to ensure plenty of travel opportunities in the year to come. In these Covid-restricted times, however, it may be best to park the suitcase for the time being. Maybe next year!

Greece

Back in Europe, and the Greeks take a belts-and-braces approach to luck – letting out the bad and welcoming in the good. It’s customary for Greeks to hang an onion on their front doors as a sign of prosperity and regrowth. And on the stroke of midnight, Greeks open all their windows to release those pesky evil spirits, the kallikantzaroi. Try doing that during a Scottish Hogmanay hoolie!

Scotland

Speaking of Scotland. Here we celebrate New Year’s in a big way. The Scots call New Year Hogmanay and it’s used as an excuse for big parties such as Ceilidhs, usually involving large amounts of traditional Scottish food and drink. Once Midnight arrives it is traditional to sing Robert Burns‘ “Auld Lang Syne” whilst holding hands in a circle.

Another Scottish tradition still common is “First footing”. This involves being the first person over the threshold of another’s home bringing a symbolic gift for good luck. If you are being truly traditional it should be a dark-haired male, and he should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and a wee dram of whisky. The dark-haired male bit is believed to be a throwback to the Viking days, when a big blonde stranger arriving on your doorstep with a big axe meant big trouble, and probably not a very happy New Year! (source)

Denmark

But it’s those northerners, the Danes, who have a really smashing tradition. On New Year’s eve in Denmark, it’s time to gather up all your old broken and chipped crockery and smash it against your friends’ doors. They claim it’s a sign of lifelong friendship, and who am I to argue? After all that exertion, you reward yourself with a slice of kransekage, a huge cake made of layered marzipan. Pity there’s no plate left to serve it on.

However you celebrate, wherever you are, we wish you a very happy New Year, Akemashite Omedetou, Feliz Ano Novo, Feliz Año Nuevo, ευτυχισμένος ο καινούριος χρόνος, Godt Nytår.

By Lesley McRob

Read more about New Year on our blog with our articles on Spanish traditions and New Year’s resolutions

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