Jonathan van Bilsen
Addressing the Haggis
Updated: Feb 3
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of becoming an honourary Scot at the annual Robert Burns supper held at the Port Perry Legion. The night was fantastic, with an excellent dinner, amazing music and a narrative description of who Robert Burns actually was.
Being Dutch, you can appreciate the honour I felt when I was asked to toast the lassies at the dinner. Stewart Bennett, of the Wee Tartan Shop, and Bill Minors, of Books Galore, were the masterminds behind the evening, and they have been doing this for many years. Bill explained how the Burns supper was held in more than 200 countries, which is not bad for a Scottish poet who lived around 260 years ago.
Before I could deliver my ten-minute toast, I had to learn about Robert Burns, who was, after all, the reason for the celebration. Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in Ayrshire, Scotland. He died 37 years later and is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.
In those 37 years, he wrote 550 poems, including 'A Red, Red Rose,' 'Tam O' Shanter' and, of course, 'Auld Lang Syne.' He also wrote the famous address to the haggis, recited at every Burns supper worldwide.
Along with his writings, he managed to father 13 children in 11 years with five different women, which must be some sort of record. He was certainly not a feminist, but his two main loves in life were women and politics, and his writings are a testament to his views. His wife gave birth to their last child on the day of Burns' funeral.
At the recent Burns dinner, Stewart Bennett addressed the haggis, as only he can. I learned haggis is not a furry animal roaming the highlands of Scotland but a savoury pudding containing sheep's heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked in a sheep's stomach. To my surprise, it was quite delicious.
Bill Minors gave a well-written dissertation on the life of Robert Burns, and Piper Laci Otis led everyone in traditional Scottish tunes. The well-known group Claidhmor performed a selection of favourite hits.
The evening was fantastic, and I was privileged to be a part of it. I would recommend attending next year, even if you do not own a kilt or have Scottish roots, for no one does a party like the Scots.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, 'Jonathan van Bilsen's photosNtravel', on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.