The first Robbie Burns Day suppers were held in Ayrshire, Scotland, at the end of the 18th century by Robert Burns' friends on the anniversary of his death and they have been a regular occurrence in Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the world with strong concentrations of Scots ever since. (In far away Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, there's particularly boisterous celebration of Robbie Burns Day, as the city was founded by Thomas Burns, Robbie’s nephew.)
Burns was a staunch Scotsman, his lyrically poetry celebrating all things Scottish, from the language to the (in)famous national dish, Haggis. (Have you ever tried it? Made of minced up sheep’s organs, and stuffed in a casing of sheep’s stomach, it’s actually surprisingly bland, if not pleasant – like a cross between sausage and shepherd’s pie.)
On this day, in Robbie’s honour, those who celebrate pay homage to Scottish culture: donning kilts, listening to bagpipes, eating haggis and sipping Scotch.
In Vancouver, a city of cultural fusion and Asian influence, a fantastic hybrid celebration broke out almost 20 years ago, and grows larger each year: Gung Haggus Fat Choy. Any guesses on what two cultural festivals this event celebrates? Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Day, of course! Started in 1993 by Todd Wong (also now known as “Toddish McWong”), a 5th generation Chinese-Canadian student at Simon Fraser University, Gung Haggis Fat Choy has exploded in popularity in recent years. The event features a giant Chinese New Years/Robbie Burns Day dinner, at which haggis lettuce wraps and deep fried haggis won-ton are just a couple of the unique dishes served. Kilts and dragon masks proliferate, as do bagpipes, Chinese flutes and highland dancers.
If you’re interested in organizing your own Robbie Burns Day supper, this website offers some great tips for how to plan an evening to remember.
We’ll leave you with Robbie’s opening stanza from “Ode to a Haggis”:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.