Burns’ Nicht

Robert Burns portrait from Duyckinick, Evert A. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Robert Burns portrait from Duyckinick, Evert A. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Every January Scots from around the world celebrate the life and poetry of beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns. A prolific poet and song writer, Burns is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. Born in 1759 to tenant farmers in Alloway, Scotland, Burns was no stranger to poverty and hard work. His father, a self-educated man, worked hard to give his sons the best education possible. Burn’s attended school for several years before the family was able to partner with several other local families to hire a private tutor for the children. This early education inspired a love of literature in the young Robert Burns and he was known to have spent long nights reading, even after a full day of manual labor. A life-long romantic, Burns was composing love poems by the age of 15. Known as quite the ladies man, Burns fathered at least a dozen children over his lifespan, and had a number of lovers and affairs. Though he had been writing for some time, his first major book of poetry (the Kilmarnock Edition’) was published in 1786. On the heels of this success, Burns moved to Edinburgh for a time where he was introduced to high society life. Despite his popularity and successful publications Burns felt out of place, often criticizing the church and inequality of society, while praising the ideals of the French and American revolutions though satire and humor. He returned to country life in 1788, leasing a farm in Dumfriesshire. Though his books sold well, Burns struggled to support his family on his poetry, having sold the copyright of many of his works early. He was forced to abandon the farm in 1791, becoming a full-time excise employee. “Scotland’s favorite son,” the “ploughman poet” died in 1796, in debt. Some of his most famous works include: “Auld Lang Syne” (sung every year at New Years celebrations), “Tam O’Shanter,” and “The Battle of Sherramuir,” with many written in Gaelic or using common everyday speech.

The Burns’ Nicht (or Night) tradition began shortly after his death, in 1801, and has become a worldwide phenomenon. These celebrations traditionally involve a dinner of haggis, bag-piping, speeches, toasts to the bard, and the recitation of some of his poetry. The following video include a recital of Robert Burn’s “The Address to the Haggis” a poem performed at Burns Nicht celebrations around the world.

Burns’ Night gatherings can even be found in Texas, and are popular with all Scottish-Americans (even MacLeods). Besides the many private celebrations there are a number of public Burns’ Nicht gathering available around the state for all to participate in. Below is a listing of some of the Burns’ Night Dinners being held in Texas this year, if you know of another please send us a comment and we’ll be happy to add it the list.

Scottish Clans of North Texas (Fort Worth)- January 10th

Scottish Society of San Antonio, TX – January 24th

Scottish Society of Dallas, TX – January 24th

Abilene Pipers – January 24th

Houston District Royal Scottish Country Dance Society – January 24th

 

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