27 January 2019

Up Helly Aa - A New Age Viking-Scottish Tradition

Up Helly Aa

A New Age Viking-Scottish Tradition

Up Helly Aa  takes place in Lerwick, Shetland on the last Tuesday in January every year, with only breaks for the death of Queen Victoria (1901) the First and Second World Wars, and postponements for two weeks in 1900 for influenza outbreak and for the death of George V, and  one week for the death of Winston Churchill.
Though the festival has a very ancient Norse feeling, Up Helly Aa is a tradition that only originated in the 1880s. Since that time, the fire festival has been an annual event in the Shetlands.   The current festival held in Lerwick grew out of the older Yuletide tradition of Tar Barreling, which took place at Christmastime and New Year.   

Rowdy lads would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges and making mischief.  As this grew out-of-hand, the rites were abolished around the mid-1870s.  After a few years, people began to miss the festivity so they obtained permission to have a torch procession, the first one taking place in 1876.  

Soon, that was expanded into Up Helly Aa Day in 1881.  The first Viking galley was burned in 1889 at the end of the parade at the Market Cross.   Early Galleys were made from a light timber frame of discarded wood, and covered with canvas.  Modern Galleys are built and painted by local tradesmen.  Work starts at the end of October and continues two nights a week until completed.  

The torches in the parade are constructed from hessian sacks, with concrete “shoulders” to ensure they stay in place during the procession.  The Monday before Up Helly Aa, all the torches are soaked in fuel to ensure they burn well and last long.

Each year sees it grow in popularity.

21 January 2019

Burn's Night

Every January 25th, Scotland and Scots all over the world come together to celebrate the life of the national poet, Robert Burns.  There are many Burns Night Celebrations throughout Scotland, and you now see them spreading through the USA.  You haven’t been to one?  Well, like on St. Paddy’s Day and the wearing of the Green, everyone has a wee bit of Irish in them?  You might say the same about Burns Night.  So, reach down and find that thread of Scots heritage in your background and get thee to the nearest Burns Night.  You won’t regret it.

Burns Nights begins with The Piping In The Guests.  A piper is positioned to welcome incoming guests, and he plays until the high table is ready to be seated.  (If there is no high table set up, then it’s when all the tables are filled and the evening is ready to be called to order.)  The evening is called to order by the Captain, Chair or Host, and he warmly welcomes all to the gathering.  Next, he outlines what will happen in the evening ahead and in what order.

The Piping In The Haggis kicks off the celebration.  All guests normally stand as the Haggis is carried in on an ornate silver platter—the piper leads, then comes the Haggis bearer, the chef and the person who will provide the address to the Haggis.  A whisky-bearer comes at the end and moves through the gathering to ensure all glasses are filled for the toast.  Guests clap in time to the music, until the procession finally reaches the head table.  The music ends and everyone is seated again, and is silent in anticipation of the address to a Haggis. 

The honored reader holds the crowd’s attention as he offers an entertaining rendition of Burns’ ode to the dish.  He will hold his knife or sgian dubh, poised above the Haggis.  On cue (His Knife see Rustic-labour dight) he cuts the casing lengthwise, making sure to allow the meaty dish inside the casing to spill out.  

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
       Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
       As lang 's my arm. 

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
       In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
       Like amber bead. 

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
       Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
       Warm-reekin, rich!

Next comes The Toast to the Haggis.  The reader prompts the guests to join in, giving their toasts.  Then, it’s time to serve the main course, generally with tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips).  When the meal is served to all, the people partake of the traditional Scottish fare.  Background music is played.  Wine or ale are served liberally with the dinner.  Some add a dash of whisky sauce on the Haggis, which true Scots know means whisky neat!  lol

After the meal, it's time for connoisseurs to taste and compare notes on the wonderful selection of malts served by the generous Chair.  Each Single Malt has its own distinct taste and smell, and no two are alike.  The proper way to drink whisky is to put two fingers into an on the rocks glass, and then add a few drops of water.  This releases the bouquet of the malt and increases the flavor.  (For those wondering what a dram of whisky is, it’s a bit more than a shot glass.)

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties - Traditional Burns Night Menu

Haggis - Ingredients

1 sheep's stomach cleaned and thoroughly scalded, turned inside out, and
   soaked overnight in cold salted water
1 Heart and Lungs of one lamb
1 pound of beef trimmings, fat and lean
2 large onions, finely chopped
8 oz oatmeal
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground dried coriander
1 tsp mace
1 tsp nutmeg
water, enough to cook the haggis
stock from lungs and trimmings


1.  Wash the lungs, heart and liver.  Place in large pan of cold water with the  meat trimmings and bring to the boil. Cook for about 2 hours.  When cooked, strain off the stock and set the stock aside.
2.  Mince the lungs, heart and trimmings.
3.  Put the minced mixture in a bowl and add the finely chopped onions, oatmeal  and seasoning.  Mix well and add enough stock to moisten the mixture.  It should have a soft crumbly consistency.
4. Spoon the mixture into the sheep's stomach, so it's just over half full.  Sew up  the stomach with strong thread and prick a couple of times so it doesn't explode  while cooking.
5. Put the haggis in a pan of boiling water (enough to cover it).  Cook for 3 hours  without a lid.  Keep adding more water to keep it covered.
6. To serve, cut open the haggis and spoon out the filling.

Tatties and Neeps

1 1/4 lb potatoes (peeled and chopped in cubes)
1 1/4 lb turnips (peeled, chopped in cubes)
1 pinch nutmeg
4 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons butter
Sea salt and pepper to taste

For the Potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt, cover the pan with a lid.  Bring the potatoes to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender (approximately 20 minutes). Drain the potatoes and keep to one side.  Add half of the butter and half the milk to the pan the potatoes were cooked in.  Melt the butter and warm the milk, add  the cooked potatoes and mash.  Add the nutmeg and stir well to create a smooth, creamy mash.

For the Turnips: Place the turnips in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt, cover the pan with a lid.  Bring the turnips to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender (approximately 20 minutes).

Drain the turnips and keep to one side.  Add half of the butter and half the milk to the pan the turnips were cooked in.  Melt the butter and warm the milk, add the cooked turnips and mash until smooth and creamy

To Serve:  Once cooked remove the haggis from the water.
Place on a serving dish and cut it open with scissors or a knife
and serve with the tatties and neeps alongside.  And to drink,
a wee dram of Scotch whisky would be traditional.

As the evening becomes mellow and the meal is done, it is time for The First Entertainment.  Generally, this is a singer or musicians who will perform Burns’ songs.  If a singer isn't provided, you will get someone reciting poems by Burns.

My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose;
Rantin', Rovin' Robin;
John Anderson, my jo;
Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever. 

After the singers or poetry recitation, the keynote speaker takes the stage, and delivers a talk on who Robert Burns was, speaking of his literary genius, his politics, his personal achievements, and disappointments in life.  He explains why Burns is so rooted in Scottish nationalism.  The speaker‘s bard ability is very important to paint the full picture of who the man was, why his memory is so enduring.  The speaker concludes with a heart-felt toast “To the immortal memory of Robert Burns!”

The evening’s The Second Entertainment is introduced—more songs or poems to round out Burns’ extensive works.  Once that is done, you come to The Toast to the Lassies.  A more  lighthearted part of the evening.  The toast is offered to praise women and their roles in the world today, but it should be done with quotations from Burns’ works—and hopefully in a positive tone.  This can be a general toast to females, or more specific to those females in attendance.

The Final Entertainment for the evening comprises more songs and poems of Burns, sometimes with dancers.  Upon conclusion, it’s time for the women

to get a wee dram of revenge in their chance to give The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, as the females have a turn to address males with Burns’ quotes.  Generally, there is a wee bit more bite to the chosen quotes.

As the evening draws to close, the Host thanks everyone for coming and sharing the festivities.  He closes the proceeding by inviting guests to stand and sign Auld Lang Syne.