Tomorrow is a very important day – a holiday, in fact. I trust that you’re preparing for the event properly. Have you purchased a nice big sack of tatties? Have you mashed your neeps? And, of course, you already have plenty of haggis ready to heat up and serve. That just goes without saying. It’s not a holiday without haggis.
You look confused. In fact, you look like you might think there is something wrong with me. Tatties? Neeps? Okay, you’ve heard of haggis. Pretty much everyone has heard of the infamous Scottish dish that most people prefer not to investigate the contents of.
If you want to know, tomorrow is Burns Night, the annual celebration of Robert Burns’ birthday. Rabbie Burns is something of a hero over here in Scotland, so he gets his own day, and the Scots make the most of it. There are Burns suppers happening all week and pubs are toasting Burns with a glass of Scotch whisky all over the city.
To start the evening, make sure you say a proper prayer of thanks for the food you have so carefully prepared (yes, I know, you still don’t quite understand what you’re eating):
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
- Now, I do rather object to the prayer’s definition of haggis as meat, strictly speaking, but we’ll move on.
- You’ve got your piles of mashed substances and you’re ready to dig in. Okay, you’re still wondering just what exactly you’re eating. Well, we might want to simply let the haggis be. It contains parts of sheep that most people don’t want to know that they are eating. We will call it ‘meat’, leave it safely tucked away in quotation marks, and move on to possibly less distressing parts of the meal.
- Well, our tatties will look much more familiar since they show up on plates across America as well as here in the UK. A good old pile of mashed potatoes is hearty, wholesome, and (best of all for the less adventurous of us) completely recognizable.
But what about the pile of mashed orange-tinted stuff next to it? (And why, we are compelled to ask ourselves, is every single item on this plate a mashed substance? Is using teeth not part of the Burns supper tradition? Further research is required…) The orange ‘neeps’ that you are doubtfully poking with your fork are turnips, possibly Swedish turnips, and might not be to everyone’s taste. But, hey, at least we can identify them and they seem fairly normal! (Did the haggis just move on your plate? Oh dear…)
- Well, it’s not quite time to eat yet. Our meaty mass of mush must be honored further with its very own address! Robert Burns wrote the ‘Address to a Haggis’ and since it’s his birthday, we’ll remember him by reciting this gem of his and pay homage to our quasi-meat substance at the same time. Two birds, one stone, and all that. So here it goes:
- What? You didn’t understand a word of it? Except maybe that bit about gushing entrails. That sort of sticks with you…
- But, now you’re curious, despite yourself. What is it that someone could write such a stirring and dramatic poem about? What is he saying?
- So glad you asked. Luckily, there are translations of this delightful piece. Be warned, if you are not a Scot, this poem might be too much for your delicate constitution.
Fair is your honest happy face,
Great chieftain of the pudding race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe or guts,
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
The groaning platter there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads.
His knife having seen hard labour wipes
And cuts you up with great skill,
Digging into your gushing insides bright
Like any ditch,
And then oh what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!
Then spoon for spoon,
They stretch and strive –
Devil take the last man, on they drive
Until all their well swollen bellies
Are bent like drums.
Then, the old gent most likely to rift (burp)
Be thanked, mumbles.
Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a pig,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust
Looks down with a sneering scornful opinion
On such a dinner?
Poor devil, see him over his trash
As feeble as a withered rush,
His spindle-shank a good whiplash
His clenched fist the size of a nut.
Through a bloody flood and battle field to dash,
Oh how unfit!
But take note of the strong haggis fed Scot.
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clasped in his large fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle
And legs and arms and heads he will cut off
Like the tops of thistles.
You powers who make mankind your care
And dish them out their meals,
Old Scotland wants no watery food
That splashes in dishes,
But if you wish her grateful prayer
Give her a haggis!
Well, you asked for it and now you know. This is haggis. So happy Burns Night, happy feasting, happy haggis!
Oh, and don’t forget an Ode to the Lassies and an Ode to the Lads to finish off a lovely night. Rabbie Burns would be so proud.