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Tue, Oct. 22

Who is Robert Burns and why does he have a day?

"Auld Lang Syne" can be heard all over the United States at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, but few people know that it means "old long since" in the Scottish dialect, or "days gone by" in modern English. Fewer people still know that the auhor who penned it was a Scottish poet named Robert Burns. "Comin' Thro' the Rye" is another tune many folks can hum, but know nothing of the origin. Burns, again.

How many have quoted the phrase "the best laid schemes of mice and men" and were not aware that it is lifted from a poem titled "To a Mouse " created by the farmer/writer, Robert Burns?

Burns was born on Jan. 25, 1759 to a farming family. He continued farming most of his life, even after acquiring some success as a writer. Like most writers, however, even popular and beloved ones, Burns took on a second job to keep his family together and fed. He was an exciseman in Dumfries, Scotland, where his employer paid him around 70 pounds a year. (Not bad for a man used to earning around 7 pounds.)

The romance that endures of the rags-to-riches story, minus the riches, is Burns' life story. He was a man with a great capacity for friendship, love and hearty tavern fellowship. Dubbed the "ploughman poet," Burns found himself surrounded and fussed over by the literati of the day, especially in Edinburgh.

Robbie B. seemed to have a stupid streak when it came to women, however. "There were several illegitimate children before Burns finally settled down with the 19-year-old Jean Armour, who bore him nine children. The last child, Maxwell, was born the very day Burns died at the age of 37. His death was due to heart disease, most likely brought on by grueling work at a young age. On the day of his funeral, more than 10,000 people came to watch and pay their respects. A staggering sum when considering the short and relatively untraveled life of a modest farmer turned wordsmith. Of course, his following is much larger today. More than 400 Burns songs are still in existence and his collected poems are still revisited and read several hundred years later.

Jan. 25 is the celebrated Robert Burns' birthday, and every year at this time Scots and non-Scots alike gather all over the globe to honor Burns for what is warmly referred to as the Robbie Burns supper. Bagpipes, entertainment, food, kilts, songs and of the star of the show, the Haggis, are expected. At some moment during the event, some (while addressing Haggis) recited the famous Burns poem, "To a Haggis," with great enthusiasm before chopping into it. People make toasts, and wit and humor abound.

It is an experience, like attending a midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" that a person should do at least once in a lifetime.

It seems that such gatherings are occurring in the Yavapai County area this month, so people have many opportunities to take advantage of this odd treat. One particular celebration occurs not on Jan. 25 but rather Jan. 27 and is hosted by the Scots of Prescott and the Prescott Area Celtic Society (a non-profit organization). The location is Pete's Family restaurant in Prescott. The cost is $20 per person and people can make reservations by calling 443-5191, or e-mailing The musical group, Oceans Apart, will perform. I'm not going to miss it.

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