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12 Things to Know About Robbie Burns Night from a couple of Newby’s

By Kari Fox-Newby

Members of The Flagstaff Scottish Club are getting excited to present our annual Robbie Burns Night in only two weeks time. If you haven’t gotten your tickets, you better get on that as this 14th annual event is very close to selling out. Perhaps you have never attended before or have a few questions about this Robbie Burns and why he has his own night.

This will be my family’s second time in attendance, which makes us relative newbies as well as Newby’s. Last year I joined the Battle River Pipes and Drums Band in January and by Burns Night I was just getting the hang of playing scales on my practice chanter and didn’t even own a kilt of my own. This year I will be playing with the band to pipe in the Haggis and I not only have a kilt, but know how to wear it! I’ve learned a few things since last year, and thought maybe some other folks out there would appreciate a little insider knowledge.

1. Who is this Robbie Burns, and why do we celebrate him when the air hurts our face?

Robert Burns was a poet, a ladies man and all around Scottish celebrity... about 200 years ago. Most people know his song Auld Lang Syne. His birthday was January 25, 1759, which is why we celebrate him in the cold hard heart of winter. Flagstaff Scottish Club chooses to celebrate shortly after the actual day in order to allow members to attend Robbie Burns Day events put on in other communities like Vermilion. Not to mention, some of the folks there like to come to our event as well, and we heartily welcome you all!

2. What is in Haggis and why is it served for Burns night?

Like many traditional delicacies, it might be best not to look too closely at the recipe. Just know that no one has ever died from eating haggis, (I’m pretty sure) and it’s a quite tasty savoury side dish. My husband and I think it tastes similar to turkey stuffing with a little meat and spice mixed in. On Burns night it is served with a side of poetry written by the Scottish bard himself. There is a bit of a ceremonial presentation you have to experience to fully appreciate. Did I mention it involves an entire Pipes and Drums band?

3. If I don’t like haggis, will there be anything else there to eat?

Your ticket includes a full prime rib dinner and late night lunch. With a full course of salads, veggies, “tatties and neeps”, more commonly known as mashed potatoes and turnips, Yorkshire pudding and dessert, it will be very difficult for anyone to leave this event hungry.

4. Can I get a wee dram of Scotch?

It is a Burn’s night tradition to toast the Haggis with a sip of Scotch, so each place setting includes a shot and proper glass to drink it in. You even get to keep your glass. Club members have also been tasting and sampling to make sure there will be a selection of truly fine Scotch on hand to enjoy. It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it. Talk to one of our 3 Scotch Stewards (Delin Watmough, Thomas Shaw, and Blake Shaw), and they will guide you to the best dram to suit your personal preference. Of course, if Scotch is not your thing, or not your only thing, a fully stocked bar is also available. There are also designated drivers on hand to get you and your car home safely.

5. What else happens at this event?

Along with dinner, there are a few traditional toasts that will be given, a chance to bid on silent auction items, a Bonnie Knees contest, Scottish Dancers performing, a Great Kilt demonstration, and finally a dance with live Celtic music.

6. Do you have to be Scottish to attend this event?

Absolutely not. You don’t even have to be Scottish to join the Flagstaff Scottish Club, but you may want to keep any English heritage to yourself. (I understand there was a bit of a feud there.) All you need to attend Robbie Burns Night is a ticket and willingness to discover and enjoy celebrating Scottish traditions.

7. Do I have to wear a kilt?

You don’t have to wear a kilt, but many will. This is an occasion to proudly show off family tartans, traditional attire and dress up in your finest for a formal evening. If you don’t have Scottish heritage but want to wear a kilt, there are many general tartan patterns that anyone can wear. There is even a Canadian tartan and one for each Province.

8. What are the requirements for the Bonnie Knees contest?

If you are a gentleman willing to have a blindfolded lady feel your knees, you’re in. Kilts are traditionally required for entry, but some gentlemen have been known to roll up their trews or pants. I don’t think anyone wearing pants has ever won, but the more contestants who join in, the more fun it is.

9. Speaking of men in kilts, what do they wear under there? (Did I just make you say underwear?)

If you really want to know, you will have to find a man in a kilt willing to tell you, or show you! But seriously, while it’s all in good fun to joke about it, please be respectful of people’s privacy.

10. Will the Pipes and Drums band be offended if I cover my ears?

Truth be told, we wear earplugs to practice and know the pipes and drums can be dangerously loud, especially in large numbers and indoors. Go ahead and cover your ears if you must, we won’t be offended as long as you applaud thunderously after. Wiping away a stray tear is also completely appropriate, we will assume you were touched by our music.

11. How do you dance to Celtic music?

Any way you want. Grab a partner or some friends, your feet will know what to do. With the boys of St. James’ Gate performing, you’ll have more trouble staying in your seat than figuring out how to dance.

12. Is there anything else I need to bring to Burns’ night?

Remember your chequebook and cash! All fundraising activities support the Battle River Pipes and Drums Band. Your support is greatly appreciated and we don’t want you to have to run out in the cold to go to the bank machine.

Hopefully our list of insider tips has helped you decide to get a ticket before they are all sold out. We look forward to seeing you there.


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