Talking to Your Dinner and Dancing: Burns Night at Kaplan Edinburgh

January 25, 1759 saw the birth of Robert “Rabbie” Burns, a Scottish poet and songwriter who would go on to be widely loved by both the Scottish people and fans all over the world. His songs and poems often deal with love and women or else with everyday things such as food. As a result, most people find they can relate to his writing, even though it was written hundreds of years ago in a Scots dialect that can be hard to understand.

Every year around the poet’s birthday, Burns lovers celebrate his memory by eating a traditional meal – a Burns Supper. This can be an informal get-together of friends and family, or a formal, traditional gathering of hundreds of people. Although they are, naturally, most popular in Scotland, Burns Night celebrations can be found in most major cities all over the world.

A taste of Robert Burns at Kaplan

Kaplan students were treated to their very own Burns Supper on January 23, the weekend nearest the poet’s birthday. Students and teachers from our Edinburgh school got together to eat some haggis, hear some bagpipes, try a little ceilidh dancing, and immerse themselves in the Scottish culture. They were joined by students from our Cambridge, London, Manchester, and Liverpool schools, totaling over 170 participants!

The Kaplan Burns Supper was a very traditional affair. In accordance with tradition, participants were led into the hall by a piper playing the iconic instrument of Scottish culture, the bagpipe, with the men wearing the famous tartan kilts. As is customary, the ceremonies began with a greeting from the host, who in this case was Martin Thom, a teacher at Kaplan Edinburgh. Students were then served a traditional Scottish soup.

The haggis is at the center of the Burns Supper.
The haggis is at the center of the Burns Supper.

Next up was the piping in of the haggis, in which the famous Scottish dish is walked around the room led by the piper. The host now talks to the haggis, reciting one of Burns’ most famous poem, Address to a Haggis, and telling what a delicious bit of food it is.

Haggis is a dish made from the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep, along with various spices and other ingredients. Traditionally it was cooked inside the sheep’s stomach, but nowadays a sausage casing is a bit more standard. Even lovers of haggis admit the ingredients don’t sound very appetizing, but it’s actually quite tasty! It’s usually served with “neeps and tatties” (Scots for “turnips and potatoes”).

How often do you read poetry to your food?
How often do you read poetry to your food?

After the meal comes “The Immortal Memory,” which is a speech remembering Burns and talking about how his model is still important today. The speech lets Burns’ legacy live on and the memory of him remain “immortal.”

In the Toasts to the Lasses and Laddies, a male host gives a toast to all the females, and a female host to all the males. Luke Watson, the Social Program Manager for Kaplan Liverpool, toasted the “lasses,” talking a bit about his own experience with women and even giving the audience a taste of a modern “poet” who he feels captures the modern-day essence of Robert Burns: Kanye West! Kanye, although his language is a bit more vulgar than Burns', talks about his relationship with women and stylized versions of the lives of people around him. What do you think of Luke’s comparison?

Edinburgh Principal Rachèle gives the story behind Ae Fond Kiss
Edinburgh Principal Rachèle gives the story behind Ae Fond Kiss

In the Toast to the Laddies, Edinburgh Principal Rachèle Walker discussed Burns famous relationship-through-letters that ultimately inspired the famous song Ae Fond Kiss, which she then played on the flute accompanied by a cello.

Next came the singing of Auld Lang Syne, arguably Burns’ most famous work, even amongst people who have never heard of him. The song, whose Scots title translates to “times long past,” is sung worldwide at midnight in the New Year to remember the times past and celebrate the coming year.

The evening concluded with a bit of ceilidh dancing, accompanied by a live Scottish band. The singer shouted out instructions to students who split into small groups to dance in circles, spin around, and pass in lines.

There are a variety of traditional ceilidh dances, but they're all a great way to burn off a heavy meal!
There are a variety of traditional ceilidh dances, but they're all a great way to burn off a heavy meal!

Curious to see a bit more about Scotland yourself, and maybe bravely trying a little haggis? Consider studying at our school in Edinburgh! At the very least, next New Year's Eve you'll know a bit more about the song you've been hearing for so long.

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