San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Kilted Toast Poet, Salute Haggis at Burns Supper

Joining hands at midnight to sing “Auld Lang Syne” (Scots dialect for “Long time, no see”) is one New Year’s Eve tradition that never dies. The man who wrote the words to that famous song is certainly one very old acquaintance who has never been “forgot,” even though this January marks the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Robert Burns, Scotland’s famous poet, lived from 1749 to 1796. On his death, “Robbie,” as his admirers call him, left a legacy of poetry, songs and metaphors that have become part of the English language: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…” “My love is like a red, red rose…”

Less known, perhaps, is that for the last decade of his life, Burns devoted himself to collecting and fine-tuning traditional Scottish songs. At a time when English overlords were trying to erase the emblems of Scottish nationalism, after putting down the disastrous (for the Scots) 1745 uprising, reviving these songs was crucial in keeping alive a part of Scottish culture and identity.

You don’t have to be a Scottish nationalist to appreciate Burns, though. His earthy sense of humor and homely subjects – mice, lice, daisies, young love, Scotch whisky and, of course, haggis, Scotland’s version of pâté – have endeared him to readers around the world. The Scots dialect may be a little obtuse, but his spirited, poetic celebrations of whisky, women and song are universal.

They also lend themselves easily to parties in his honor. Every year, around the poet’s Jan. 25 birthday, admirers gather in Scotland and the remotest corners of the Earth at Burns suppers to toast the poet with fine Scotch, to salute (and eat) the haggis he made famous and, appropriately, to sing the Scottish songs he penned.

On Jan. 30, local Scots and party-lovers of all nationalities here in Costa Rica will be donning their Gay Gordons apparel, lacing up their dancing shoes and heading to the Costa Rica Country Club in the western San José suburb of Escazú, festooned with tartan and Scottish flags, for a “Burns Supper With a Touch of Tico.” Along with the traditional toasts and “the piping in” and “Address to a Haggis,” there will be Scottish country dancing and lots of music, including a performance of traditional Scottish songs and a chance for partygoers to sing along. The touch of Tico will be provided by live music from Peregrino Gris, the nationally renowned band that has improbably and successfully melded Celtic music, bagpipes and all, with rock.

If your reel-dancing skills are a little rusty – or you never had the good fortune to learn Scottish country dances, the precursors to square dancing – you can brush up or learn how at a pre-party dance night at the British School in the western district of Pavas on Jan. 24. Led by country-dance experts David and Karen Garrett, this is a rollicking, fun-filled evening, and it’s included in the ticket price for the Burns night – just bring beverages and bocas to share. It’s thirsty work, indeed, but you’ll be in fine form to join in an “eightsome reel” or “strip the willow” on the big night.

Burns Supper With a Touch of Tico will commence at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Costa Rica Country Club in Escazú. Kilt or semi-formal attire is requested. Tickets are ¢25,000 ($45) and include dance rehearsal, full dinner buffet, wine, whisky, live music, Scottish and popular dancing and Scottish song performance.

For reservations, contact Ian Young at 2282-4717, Scott Simpson at 2258-2025 or Penny Houghton at 2289-5008.


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