In Scotland, It’s Burns Night

Tonight, across Scotland, groups of soggy Scots will raise copious glasses to celebrate the birthday of their nation’s poet and champion, Robert Burns. A Burns Night feast includes the requisite Scottish dishes of haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), and ends with cranachan, a fluffy dessert, which Steve Ciccarelli over at Esquire, argues can get you drunk. But based on this typical Burns Night script, it looks you should be good and hammered by the time the cranachan arrives, what with all the toasting to the haggis, the ladies, and to the immortal memory of Burns himself.

I’ve always thought it sad that the United States lacks a holiday full of feasting, toasting and national pride, but removed from overt politics. Thanksgiving really isn’t about America, and if scrutinized too heavily, then we have to own up to our screwing over of the entire Native American population. The Fourth of July seems to only vaguely point at history while we chomp on BBQ and watch fireworks. Even Presidents’ Day is more about selling mattresses and cars and less about old George or Abe. The problem of course is when you organize a holiday around politics or politicians, you end up with dull, safe solemnity.

I think we should ditch Presidents Day and start celebrating either Benjamin Franklin’s birthday (January 17) or Mark Twain’s birthday (November 30). Both penned funny, thoughtful observations about their beloved country. And both sure as hell knew how to have a good time. We could raise glasses of rum and champagne (Franklin’s favorite tipples) or knock back Twain’s preferred American whiskey.  With all that good writing, there would be plenty to toast to and be proud of.

I know that idea is unlikely to fly. We Americans like our holidays grounded in religion or commerce. But for those of you looking for an excuse to toast to beauty, pour yourself some good Scotch while reading this excerpt of Burns’ poem Scotch Drink,  or go on and read the lush, long original. And may your “wheels o’ life gae down-hill, scrievin, Wi’ rattlin glee.”

Scotch Drink

Let other poets raise a fracas
Bout vines, and wines, an drucken Bacchus,
An crabbit names an stories wrack us,
An grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or Jug.

O thou, my Muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro’ wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem
Inspire me, till I lisp an wink,
To sing thy name!

Let husky wheat the haughs adorn,
An aits set up their awnie horn,
An Pease and beans, at e’en or morn,
Perfume the plain:
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn,
Thou king o’ grain!

Food fills the wame, an keeps us livin;
Tho life’s a gift no worth receivin
When heavy-dragg’d wi pine an grievin;
But oil’d by thee
The wheels o’ life gae down-hill, scrievin,
Wi’ rattlin glee.


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