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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Did ye ken...?

After Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure.

You can find out more about Burns and the impact of his life on Scottish culture in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave, by Jonathan Green.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Happy Burns Night!

On 25 January, Scots all over the world gather together to honour the short, yet prolific, career of their national poet, Robert Burns, because 25 January is his birthday. Also known as the Ploughman Poet (because amongst other jobs he held, he had once worked as a ploughman) Burns was, and still is, Scotland’s favourite poet. This is mainly due to the fact that he wrote in the same way that Scottish people spoke. He came from a humble background, but his natural talent was to make him a national hero.

Burns’ poetry was inspired by the stories his mother’s old maid told him when he was a child. Indeed, the poet is quoted as saying, ‘She had the largest collection in the county of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, kelpies, elf-candles, wraiths, giants, enchanted towers, dragons and other nonsense. From this grew the seeds of my poetry.’

Burns’ Suppers, which form the focus of Burns’ Night celebrations, can be either casual affairs or something much more formal. However, whatever they’re nature, the basic format varies very little. On arriving guests should be offered a drink (usually whisky) and once they are all seated at table, the chairman makes his welcome. This is followed by the Selkirk Grace and then the banquet begins.

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Burns’ Supper Menu

Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Cullen Skink

Haggis, Neeps and Champit Tatties

Sherry Trifle

After the first course has been cleared away, the haggis will be piped in – the chef carrying it to the table, accompanied by a piper playing a stirring Scottish tune – and the chairman, or another esteemed guest, will give the Address to the Haggis. Reciting the words of Burns’ poem with gusto, the speaker plunges a knife into the haggis at the words:

‘An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch.’

The address over, the guests toast the haggis, and the health of the poet, with a wee dram of whisky, naturally. When the meal is finished, the chairman (or esteemed guest) makes the first speech – The Immortal Memory – which pays tribute to the life and work of Robert Burns. This is followed by the Toast to the Lasses and is a light-hearted tribute to all the ladies present that should be humorous, but never unkind. An elected female member of the party then gives The Lasses Response. The formalities over, the rest of the night is spent enjoying the songs and poems of Burns, as performed by the guests themselves.

And if you're celebrating Burns' Night tonight, have a good one!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Three Men Go to Scotland

Griff Rhys-Jones, Rory McGrath and Dara O Briain head to the Hebrides for another adventure on the high seas.

And you can watch their adventures for yourself here.

Visit Scotland - this winter

Monday, 10 January 2011

New Forum Added

If you're a regular follower of this blog, or new to the site today, I know what you're probably thinking right about now, and that is, "Where can I chat with other like-minded individuals about the works of author Jonathan Green?"

Well, have no fear, for you can now visit the official Jonathan Green, Author forum by clicking on this link (or the one in the sidebar to the right).

As well as discussing everything from Scottish Miscellany to the latest Skyhorse release, over on the forum you'll also find news on event appearances and book signings. There will also be exclusive competitions for forum members from time to time, so why not register today? It only takes a minute and doesn't cost a thing.

Maybe I'll see you over there some time soon.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy Hogmanay!

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year. It is, however, normally only the start of a celebration which lasts through the night until the morning of New Year's Day (1 January) or, in some cases, 2 January which is also a Scottish Bank Holiday.

The etymology of the word is obscure. It may have been introduced to Middle Scots through the Auld Alliance. In 1604 the custom was mentioned in the Elgin Records as hagmonay. The most satisfactory explanation is a derivation from the Northern French dialect word hoguinané, or variants such as hoginane, hoginono and hoguinettes, those being derived from 16th century Old French aguillanneuf meaning either a gift given at New Year, a children's cry for such a gift, or New Year's Eve itself. The second element would appear to be l'an neuf i.e. the New Year.

The roots of Hogmanay perhaps reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic New Year's celebration of Samhain. In Rome, winter solstice evolved into the ancient celebration of Saturnalia where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The winter festival went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century.

There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of 'first-footing' which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day. The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year.

The Hogmanay custom of singing "Auld Lang Syne" has become common in many countries. "Auld Lang Syne" is a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns, which was later set to music. It is now common for this to be sung in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day, although it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, coordinating with the lines of the song which contain the lyrics to do so. Typically it is only in Scotland this practice is carried out correctly.

When Ne'erday falls on a Sunday, January 3rd becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Saturday, both January 3rd and January 4th will be public holidays in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Friday, January 4th becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland.

As in much of the world, the largest Scottish cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen hold all-night celebrations, as does Stirling. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations are among the largest in the world, although in 2003-4 most of the organised events were cancelled at short notice due to very high winds. The Stonehaven Fireballs went ahead as planned, however, with some 6000 people braving the stormy weather to watch 42 fireball swingers process along the High Street.

Historically, presents were given in Scotland on the first Monday of the New Year. This would be celebrated often by the employer giving his staff presents and parents giving children presents. Handsel Day is marked by teachers giving gifts to their students. A roast dinner would be eaten to celebrate the festival. Handsel was a word for gift box and hence Handsel Day.