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Thank goodness we weren’t required to speak Gaelic in order to celebrate Scotland’s most famous son. The P-Seminar Geography spent the evening of Jan.25th in the company of many members of the Friends of North Lanarkshire in Oberndorf to participate in the worldwide tradition of honouring Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland.

But what is a Burns’ Supper anyway?

The first one was held in July 1801 when nine of Burns’ close friends got together to mark the fifth anniversary of their friend’s death. They ate and drank and recited Robert Burns’ work and gave speeches. It was such a great success that it was decided to hold it again, this time honouring “Rabbie’s” birthday and therefore beginning a tradition that is still enjoyed today.

What happens at a “Burns’ Supper”?

Each supper is individual but a general guideline is usually followed:

- To start, everyone gathers, the host says a few words of welcome and there is music. In our case Uwe Walther, the head of the Partnerschaftsverein Freunde von North Lanarkshire, welcomed everyone and nicely enough especially our group from the Alexander-von-Humboldt Gymnasium. We then got a second welcome done by Bill Montgomery, true Scotsman, but living in Bamberg. Dressed to the ninth in the traditional Highland Dress – that is a tartan kilt, belt, sporran, kilt pin and tartan tie, he told the story of the life of Robert Burns, the highs and the lows, and especially stressed his importance as a poet and critic of political life. After warming up his Bagpipes he played a couple of tunes to get everyone in the spirit of the celebration.

When the food was ready the Haggis (a meat pie of sorts!) was presented, “piped in”, walked through the room and Bill gave the Selkirk Grace, which is the traditional prayer said before a meal:

Some hae meat and canna eat, (Some have meat and cannot eat)
And some wad eat that want it, (Some cannot eat, that want it)
But we hae meat and we can eat, (But we have meat and we can eat)
Sae let the Lord be Thanket! (So let us thank the Lord)

Then the Haggis is honoured by the recital of the “Ode to a Haggis” by Robert Burns and the kilt knife, the sgian-dubh [,ski: ən ‘du:] is used to cut the haggis open. It is then served with “neeps and tatties” (turnips and potatoes). We all enjoyed this food, despite the students being hesitant at first to try something so weird-looking. In the end curiosity outweighed the creeps and the food was tried. The traditional rounding off with the Scottish water of life – uisge beatha [ˈɯʃkʲəˈpɛhə] was reserved for the ‘elders’ but at least everyone got to smell it.

Bill Montgomery played both his babpipes and the fiddle druing the meal and the traditional Scottish music was the perfect backdrop to an interesting and fun evening. After the meal and dessert we sang along with Bill and his guitar. As Robert Burns wrote many critical pieces in his career as a poet, we not only sang Scottish songs, such as My Bonnie is over the ocean – a reference to Bonnie Prince Charlie but also well-known protest songs from other places. Bill Montgomery talked more about Robert Burns, his work and explained a bit about the language. He read a very interesting piece written by Burns to us that seems to parallel politics and politicians of today.

To end the night, our host Uwe Walther gave a vote of thanks, everyone then stood in a circle, crossed hands and we all sang Auld Lang Syne, a song written by Robert Burns and usually sung on New Year’s Eve and when friends are parting.

To sum up the P-Seminar Geography enjoyed an interesting and fun evening and we are now looking forward even more to our upcoming trip to Bonnie Scotland in July.

Haste ye’ back! Christine Kuhr-Jones