Centerpiece of Robert Burns’ birthday

The haggis plays a big role in annual Robert Burns Dinners; and locally, Celtic Chaos keeps busy

The Robbie Burns fundraiser at the Qualicum Beach Community Hall includes the piping of the haggis.

The Robbie Burns fundraiser at the Qualicum Beach Community Hall includes the piping of the haggis.

It is an institution of Scottish life and some big time Robert Burns events are being held in Oceanside January 20, 21,25 and 28.

Robbie Burns Suppers have been part of Scottish culture for about 200 years as a means of commemorating Scotland’s best loved bard.

When Burns immortalized haggis in verse he created a tradition that is maintained to this day by millions of people throughout the world who regularly celebrate their Scottish heritage.

Once a year the fervour inspires impassioned dinner speeches and provides a good excuse for whisky drinking.

A Robbie Burns night will be held on January 20 at the Rocking Horse Pub in Nanoose Bay.  Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door to enjoy a performance by Celtic Chaos, a local traditional band known for playing energetic jigs. Traditional Scottish food is also available including haggis, that pudding of puddings, that swells straining paunches still further.  The festivities begin at 5 p.m. For tickets call 250-468-1735.

An event Saturday, Jan. 21 at the Qualicum Beach Community Hall honouring Scotland’s most celebrated poet is sold out. The annual fundraiser for cancer research is being organized by the Beaton family and friends and includes live music by Celtic Chaos, Ceilidh dancing, poetry, traditional toasts and of course the haggis, being piped in by a world renowned bag piper.

For the Scottish at heart who missed out on those tickets, there is an event Wednesday, Jan. 25 at the Fairwinds Clubhouse restaurant in Nanoose Bay from 5 to 9 p.m. You can celebrate on the official birthday of the Scottish poet with a night of line dancing, music by Celtic Chaos, poetry, and a traditional Burns supper, including haggis and roast beef for $29.95 per person.

Of course a big-time Burns night calls for a piper.  For those not familiar with the tradition, the company are asked to stand to receive the haggis. A piper then leads the chef, carrying the haggis to the top table, while the guests accompany them with a slow handclap. An invited guest then recites Burns’ famous poem To A Haggis, with great enthusiasm. When he reaches the line ‘an cut you up wi’ ready slight’, he cuts open the haggis with a sharp knife.

The ritual was started by close friends of Burns a few years after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory. The basic format for the evening has remained unchanged since that time.

Charles Stephen, Food and Beverage Manager at Fairwinds  said this will be their seventh annual Robbie Burns Supper.

He said the event is all about Robert Burns the man, his poems, his travels, haggis, whisky and much more.

Stephen said they hold the event on January 25, the official birthday of Burns and follow traditional customs including the piping in of the haggis.

The haggis is a pudding made from sheep’s offal, beef suet and lightly toasted oatmeal, traditionally placed inside the sheep’s stomach, which is then boiled for up to three hours.

Stephen said their haggis is prepared fresh by their supplier and slowly poached and hopefully it won’t explode like it did last year.

He said luckily the explosion happened in the kitchen, however the smell of haggis lingered in the vicinity for sometime afterwards. Some say it is wise to have a small cut made in the haggis skin before it is piped in as there have been Instances of guests being scalded by flying pieces of haggis when enthusiastic reciters have omitted the precaution. That being said the distribution of bits of haggis about the assembled company is regarded in some quarters as a part of the fun.

Stephen said their haggis is served buffet style and he likes to pour a little dram of whisky over each portion.

“It really sweetens it up and takes away the gamy flavor” he said adding, “the addition of the whisky makes you feel like a true Scotsman.”

Stephen said his family heritage is Scottish and while many of the guests dress in traditional regalia, he is still waiting to get his father’s kilt flown over from Scotland.

After the meal is enjoyed which Stephen said also includes roast beef there will be speeches followed by a a light hearted toast to the lassies. Originally this was a thank you to the ladies for preparing the food and a time to toast the ‘lasses’ in Burns’ life.

After that it is the turn of the lasses to detail men’s foibles.

Once the speeches are complete the evening continues with songs and traditional dancing. Stephen said they have a standing order to book Celtic Chaos on the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth and every year the evening is a fun filled event with a dance caller to walk everyone through the Scottish Country dancing steps. For reservations phone Fairwinds at 250-468-9915.

A Robbie Burns Dinner is also scheduled for Saturday, Jan 28 at the Parksville Legion.   The event starts at 5:30 and includes a traditional Scottish dinner with the Mt. Arrowsmith Drum and Pipe Band and Highland Dancers. Tickets are $24.  Call 250-248-5633 for more information.


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