The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 139 is inviting the community out to their annual Robbie Burns Night Jan. 26, a celebration of Scottish culture and heritage.
Robert ‘Robbie’ Burns died at the age of 37 in Scotland in the late 1700s, yet his impact on literature and most importantly Scottish culture is still keenly felt today. Burns is still widely considered the national poet of Scotland and wrote extensively in the Celtic language creating poetry and music that have endured long past his death.
Many of the songs we naturally associate with Scotland were either written by Robbie Burns or collected by him from the countryside of Scotland during his lifetime. He has become such an influential figure that on Jan. 25, his birthday, each year around the world people celebrate his memory and legacy through song, dance and good food.
Longtime Legionnaire and organizer of Robbie Burns Night, Vivian MacNeil, attributes his enduring success to the fact he wrote in the “ordinary everyday language of the day.” The recital of Address to Haggis, for example, a mainstay of celebrations here in lakecity, can be difficult to hear spoken MacNeil admits but makes sense when read.
“He only lived until he was 37, but in that time he wrote over 300 songs and poems, he was really well known in his day,” MacNeil said.
“He died because he had a bad heart, some people think it is because he drank too much Scotch Whiskey and chased the girls too much,” she joked with a laugh.
Burns night in Williams Lake was started decades ago by the Hume family and MacNeil said she’s been to every single one since its founding when she was a child. She is now the keeper of a wide range of Robbie Burns memorabilia and helps promote and organize the event every year.
“It’s a great event and a great tradition to continue,” MacNeil said.
Indeed, tradition is what the night is built upon. Set up as a formal dinner in the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 139’s dining hall, the night has a master of ceremonies conducting a set of time honoured traditions.
For Sandy Lees, a tenor drummer with the Williams Lake Pipe Band and MacNeil’s daughter-in-law, the night gives her and the band a chance to perform classic Scottish tunes. Lees has been drumming for the band for well over a decade and described it as a family thing, coming from a long line of singer, drummers and dancers from the MacNeil clan.
“The people are amazing, the people you meet through pipe band, you meet so many super people,” Lees said. “(We offer people) tradition and pride, whenever anyone hears the pipes it makes your hair stand up not just because it’s loud but because it makes you feel proud.”
She joked that on Robbie Burns Night pipers get all the recognition as the band plays a selection of songs including the piping of the haggis followed by the Address to the Haggis. Dinner consists traditionally, she said, of prime roast, haggis, turnips, green peas, salad, Scottish shortbread along with other highland delicacies, including a shot of Drambuie at the end of the night.
This year, in addition to the pipes, fiddle music will serve as entertainment provided by the Cariboo Chilcotin Youth Fiddlers Society MacNeil said, adding she was quite happy to have them.
The doors open at 6 p.m. and the program begins at 6:30 p.m. sharp with tickets priced at $35 for adults and $15 for children.
“It’s a good family thing, it’s good for kids to learn about other people’s heritage, try haggis and it’s really super good,” Lees said. “Its a really good experience.”