A Robbie Burns Supper at the Bookworm
One of my favorite poets has always been the great Scotsman, national poet of Scotland Robert Burns (1759 – 1796). My mother would read me these as I grew up. Our favorites included “To a Louse” (‘O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us’) and “To A Mouse” (‘‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley’ , or in English as ‘The best-laid plans of mice and men / Go often wrong/ Go oft’ astray).
Even if you’ve heard nothing much of Burns’ work, “Auld Lang Syne,” the words written by Burns himself , I’m sure is something you’re all quite familiar with. Even in China, this famous New Year’s song is sung with the words translated into Chinese.
My students may not know who Robert Burns is, but they definitely know the “Auld Lang Syne” melody.
Sure, I know of Robert Burns but when I came across the announcement of a “Robbie Burns Supper,” that was a mystery.
When in Chengdu two weeks ago, I had mentioned in a previous blog about The Bookworm. It’s a foreigner’s café-restaurant of sorts with shelves of used books lining the walls. The books number in the thousands and are there for everyone’s pleasure in reading or enjoying.
The Bookworm also has many activities for patrons, including visiting author lectures, famous people meet-and-greets (I was privileged to meet environmentalist Jane Goodall there last year), activities for children, special music nights and so forth.
Jalin and I had been in the Bookworm the week before I returned to Luzhou. We were cruising over the U.S. fashion magazines when I noticed a flyer for a Robbie Burns Supper on Saturday night. The supper was thrown in honor of the poet, Robert Burns, and we were invited to take part in a 7-course meal, meet some Scots and enjoy hearing about the life and times of Robbie.
For 150 yuan per person ($18), seemed a bargain to me.
And since I wasn’t about to go by myself, I invited Jalin to come along with me if her parents approved.
A night out for the girls! What fun!
What is a Robbie Burns Supper?
I had not a clue what this was about so I looked it up on the Internet.
According to what I found, a Burns Supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns. These suppers are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday, January 25, sometimes also known as Robert Burns Day or Burns Night, although they may in principle be held at any time of the year.
Burns suppers are most common in Scotland, but they occur wherever there are Burns Clubs, Scottish Societies, expatriate Scots, or lovers of Burns’ poetry.
In our case, the Scots in the area of Chengdu (mostly businessmen) had decided to throw this shindig for fun. They had tried last year but due to conflicts in their schedules, they were unable to.
Due to Robert Burns’ great love for the ladies and quite lustful, amorous rovings during his short lifetime, they chose Valentine’s Day (February 14) as an appropriate night to honor our poet.
I furthermore learned these suppers may be formal or informal but they should always be entertaining. The only items which the informal suppers have in common are haggis, Scotch whiskey and perhaps a poem or ten. (Haggis, by the way, is a traditional Scottish dish consisting of a mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the slaughtered animal. Yum-yum!!)
Whether formal or not, the suppers follow a standard format:
1) Host’s welcome
2) 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.
3) Entrance of the haggis (all stand, applaud, and eventually toast the haggis)
4) Start of the dinner
5) Numerous speeches and toasts, including readings of Robert Burns, a toast to the lassies and a toast to the lads.
6) Dancing, songs and closing
Jalin and Connie’s Robbie Burns Supper Night Out
Jalin and I excitedly headed off to the Bookworm from her home at 6:30 p.m., February 14th.
In the crisp evening night air, we walked the 20 minutes to our destination and entered a very cozy atmosphere. Half of the café was cordoned off for guests of Burns, the beautifully set tables ablaze in plaid to honor the Scots. We mingled with a few in kilts, our gentlemen hosts and one bonnie lass, before it was finally time to find a place to sit for the night’s festivities. And what a night it was!
Below, find our grand photo album of fun from The Bookworm and Chengdu’s very first Robbie Burns Supper.
From China, here’s sending you an opening week’s Ping An (peace)!