Last night, my wife and I attended our first ever Burns Night (Robert, not George). Haggis was served with drams of poetry and scotch. Not being Scottish (but Irish!) I had never heard of Burns Night or Burns Supper. Sure, I had belted “Auld Lang Syne” many of New Year mornings, but the story of the man who wrote the original poem was never told to me. The evening was robust and engaging, one I’ll likely never forget.
So sit back, grab a fresh slice—possibly scoop—of haggis with a side of meat pie and mashed turnips. I’ll tell you all about it.
The Mystery of Friendship
The mystery of friendship is such that brings you to parties like these. We were tired from working two jobs all week and tempted, by our bed, with silent talk. But Megan was slated to give a speech at the party (Reply to the Toast to the Lassies), so we couldn’t bail.
We walked in the door of our new friend’s home and smelled a unique fragrance—much like that of Scotch—a blend: haggis, meat pie, grown people, infant people, mashed other-things. The host family, David and Neyir, lived in Scotland for three (or so) years. Ultimately Canadian, they dream of returning to Edinburgh.
The evening began with a formal introduction: welcome and grace. But before we could eat, The Address to the Haggis was recited. Dan, another new friend, recited the poem (from memory) with a hearty Scottish accent.
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!
So we ate! And it was… to be honest, it wasn’t bad. The haggis was fine. Really, it’s no worse than hot dogs (geometrically). The flavor was spicy and the texture was that of sausage. There was a meat pie served as well, made with puff pastry and Guinness. I think I liked that the best.
SIDE NOTE: This was the most meat I’ve eaten in one serving in years. The Scots must not be known for their “vegetarian” options.
After some dinner and drinks, our friend Jon recited the poem Immortal Memory. In this picture he’s wearing a shawl, pretending to be one of Burn’s daughters. I’m not sure, really, what was going on at this point. But you know, go with it. Jon read great, also not holding back on a breathy Scottish accent.
Lassies and Lads
After the Immortal Memory came the Toast to the Lassies. This speech is written by its speaker, and is dedicated to, well, you know. The Lassies. This year Chris—a big-bearded Reformed Theology Divinity student—led the speech (with a little help from his wife, Elisha). Much like a vaudeville routine, Chris recited his speech, and his wife (on cue) held up cards which read phrases for us to respond to: Even more Abstract!, Shwiiiing!, and Enough with the Abstractions! were among my favorites.
The Toast to the Lassies was a hard act to follow, but Megan tackled the challenge. It was so fun watching her recite Response to the Toast to the Lassies. She did great. I hadn’t seen her speak in front of a group, let alone playfully pander to an audience. Usually, it’s me in front of a crowd while Megan sits on the couch. I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. Next time I feel compelled to give a speech, I think I’ll just kick her leg under the table. Great job, baby!
Goodbyes, and Auld Lang Syne
After the speeches ended the floor was open to other Burns poems. Some were recited and we teased the accents. I was tired from working all day and was getting sleepier from all the Scotch and food. I didn’t do much but talk and listen. My role in the evening was to soak, and I rather enjoyed it.
It stirred in me thoughts of friendship, about how we didn’t know any of these people just six-months ago, but how we desperately needed them. Like a true gift from God, they brought us into their home; they offered us a spot to eat, a venue to speak, an opportunity to learn within the intimate setting of tradition and family.
I know nights like these are rare. People like these are rare. In a year or so we will move on from Rochester. David and Neyir will move back to Scotland (hopefully). Dan and his wife, Catherine, will be gone in two years after a PhD program. We will all go our separate ways; it’s sad, but it makes it all the more special.
Honest friendship is a rare and special gift—received for certain reasons at unknown times, never strategized or replicated, but natural. Who knows really? Friendship the mystery, the gift, all rolled up and mashed together. Like haggis, I guess.
Yeah, thank God for haggis.