1st February 2013 Athens, Greece

Burns Night

In many of the countries I have worked around the world there has been an active Caledonian or St Andrew’s Society, run by those with full or sometimes tenuous Scottish heritage, but enjoyed by people of many nationalities. One of the highlights of my year whilst working abroad has been the annual St Andrew’s Day Ball, held in November, on or near St Andrew’s Day, (the Patron Saint of Scotland).  I’m not Scottish but I enjoy the Scottish dances such as Dashing White Sergeant and Strip the Willow as well as traditional Scottish fare including a drop of Scotch Whisky.

Another highlight in the Scottish calendar is Burns Night, a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns, author of many Scots poems, who lived from 1759 to 1796.  So I was pleased to hear that the Scottish bar in Athens, The Wee Dram, planned a Burns Supper.  On the cold and wet evening of 25th January we joined with friends from Scotland, Greece, England, Finland and the Philippines, as well as many other customers at The Wee Dram to enjoy a meal of Scotch Broth, haggis, neeps and tatties, followed by Cranachan and finally a wee dram of malt whisky.

(Scotch Broth is a hearty soup made with pearl barley, root vegetables and also lamb or beef if you wish.  Haggis is a savoury pudding traditionally containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices, encased in the animal’s stomach and usually served with turnip and potatoes.  Cranachan is a mixture of whipped cream, whisky, honey and raspberries with toasted oatmeal soaked in a little whisky).

The evening included the traditional address to the haggis when a Robert Burns poem is recited in honour of the haggis:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
“Bethankit” hums.

Is there that o’re his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whistle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thristle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis! 

At the line His knife see rustic Labour dicht the speaker normally draws and cleans a knife, and at the line An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht, plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end.

At more formal Burns Suppers the evening goes on with a speech remembering some aspect of Burn’s life or poetry, followed by a toast to Robert Burns.
Thereafter there is a Toast to the Lassies when a male guest gives a humorous view on women.
Next comes the reply, sometimes called the Toast to the Laddies, when a female guest will give her views on men and reply to any specific points raised by the previous speaker.
Songs of Burns may be sung and more poetry with foreign guests invited to sing or say works from their land.
At the end of the evening everyone stands, joins hands and sings Auld Lang Syne to bring the supper to an end.

For more information about Robert Burns go to http://www.burnsmuseum.org.uk/. The Saint Andrew’s society of Athens represents the Greek community of Scots in Athens and promotes Scottish culture and traditions.  Find them at http://www.standrewssociety.gr/. To find out about The Wee Dram go to http://www.theweedram.gr/

About Lesley Nicol

I arrived at the British Embassy Athens in June 2010 to work as the Immigration Liaison Manager. I am a United Kingdom Border Agency Chief Immigration Officer currently working for…

I arrived at the British Embassy Athens in June 2010 to work as the Immigration Liaison Manager. I am a United Kingdom Border Agency Chief Immigration Officer currently working for our Risk and Overseas Liaison Network. I have worked in the field of immigration for more than twenty years. Prior to my arrival in Greece I worked in Nairobi, Kenya for four years. I enjoy working abroad and experiencing other countries and cultures.

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