Monday, January 26, 2009
A Scottish "seder"
Last night I celebrated, together with family and friends, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. And we did almost all of the customs that are associated with a Burns night. The Scots have customs and rules for most things and a Burns Night is certainly no exception to that. There just ARE certain things you do on a Burns night and I think all 25 of us present enjoyed carrying out the customs concerned. Even people who are not normally particular fans of the monarchy, for instance, were glad to join loudly in the loyal toast ("God save the Queen").
The extensive customs involved reminded me in a way of a Jewish passover seder. A seder in its present form shows strong Hellenistic influences so is probably around 2,000 years old whereas a Burns night is only around 200 years old but they are both examples of enduring and complex traditions that are greatly enjoyed by the participants. And although I have the utmost repect for the Orthodox haggadah that we used at the seder I attended last year, I think the poems of Robbie Burns also have a powerful and didactic effect. And maybe might last just as long.
It saddens me a little, however, that, as with Jewry, there has been a loss of culture among us descendants of the British diaspora. Most people these days don't even know how to respond to the loyal toast. The response to "God save the Queen" is of course simply "The Queen" but lots of people don't seem to know that.
I struggled into the kilt for the occasion and led the proceedings. Present were mostly the "old gang" of family members who seem to meet for one reason or another every month or two. But in addition to that we had two visitors from Scotland and two visitors from Sydney. From Scotland came Ken's sister Pat and her daughter Anna. From Sydney came my old friend Mel Dickson and his wife Diana. Mel is Dunedin-born so still can do an approach to a Scottish accent -- so he very kindly read some of the poems for us all. He also gave a brilliant "Address to the Lassies" that amused us all.
Anne did a great job of cooking the haggis, tatties and neeps and she even did some cabbage as well -- at my particular request. I think she does great cabbage and great neeps. It was all good peasant food, but very well done.
We had clootie dumpling as the dessert but I corrupted that custom a bit by having custard with it instead of sugar. After that we had the nearest I could find to "Dunlop" cheese accompanied by either oatcakes or salty biscuits.
The occasion was very kindly hosted at Daisy Hill by my stepson Paul, as I can only fit 7 or 8 people at my place.