26/11/2015
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Haggis takes centre stage at Big Burns Supper

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Graham Main, artistic director of the Big Burns Supper (BBS), talks about why haggis takes centre stage at the Big Burns Supper, as a petition is launched to Free the Haggis. Click here for more information on Burns Night.

At the heart of the annual Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries squats the haggis – which is, in essence, a sheep’s stomach stuffed with Scottish cultural identity.
The Bard’s own celebration of the dish described it as the 'Great chieftain o the puddin’ race'.

Each year BBS brings together tens of thousands of people from Scotland, and across the world, for a celebration of contemporary and traditional Scottish music, song, comedy and cuisine. In 2016, the nine-day event (which runs from 22 to 30 January) will include a family Burns Supper for 300, plus loads of live entertainment, in a huge mirror-lined Spiegeltent in honour of Rabbie’s birthday, on 25 January.
 

And this of all nights will be a moment when we think of all the many millions, on every continent, who claim Scottish heritage and will be reinforcing and celebrating that link by holding their own traditional Burns Suppers.


Except, that is, in the USA. Sadly, it has been banned in the States since 1971 for the very reasons Burns thought it was special. This treat of “painch, tripe, or thairm” falls foul of regulations that prohibit sheep lungs in food products.

With some 27 million Americans reckoned to be of Scottish descent that adds up to a lot of people being denied the authentic flavour of their ancestral homeland. As a result BBS joined with lots of other Scots in signing the petition started by Richard Jefferis at Change.org to Free the Haggis.

Our own children’s mascot, Hamish the Haggis, has also encouraged others to tuck in to this splendid dish. In the past he has hosted Burns Suppers for kids, with haggis sausages and chips, in order to encourage youngsters to start enjoying our culture at an early age.

It’s something we feel particularly strongly in Dumfries as this was Burns’ favourite town, a place where he lived, loved and wrote some of his finest work. Fortunately it seems that the pressure from Scotland has paid off and a compromise is being reached so that Americans can enjoy something close to genuine haggis in the future.

This is welcome news in Dumfries where Burns Night traditions are especially strong and where, through BBS and its annual street carnival, we are turning them into an even larger and very public sharing of culture and fun. Now that the USA is acknowledging that a few forkfuls of haggis are unlikely to destroy the health and vitality of their nation, BBS would like to extend a special invitation for Americans in Scotland to join us in January.

We can promise them neeps, tatties and the warmest of welcomes, if not of weather, plus some of the best entertainment around. It’s also a chance to take in some fabulous Burnsian sights, such as Ellisland Farm where the poet lived and worked, or to pay your respects at the Burns Mausoleum. Visitors can even pop to The Globe, one of Burns’ favourite pubs, which will be running some fantastic 10 Minute Burns Suppers for visitors.

The festival itself includes everything from Burns songs from the wonderful Eddi Reader to risqué Caledonian cabaret with Le Haggis through to rock from Black Grape and the comedy of Jason Byrne. If you’d like to find out more just take a look at our website.

(Images copyright Big Burns Supper)

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