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What’s the history behind this long-held Scottish tradition?


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By Jonathan Riley on 25th January 2023

Celebrated annually since 1801 in homes across Scotland, Burns Night commemorates the life and legacy of the famous Scottish bard, Robert Burns. Arts & Culture contributor Jonathan Riley is here to tell you more about this long-held Caledonian tradition.

Robert Burns was a British and Scottish national poet who composed songs in English and the Scottish dialect (yep - he was the guy who wrote Auld Lang Syne!). Born and bred on Scottish soil, Burns Night is (appropriately) celebrated on the 25th of January each year - the same day that Burns' was born. The Scottish national poet was also seen as a jolly Scottish figure within Scotland, and a personality that represents a separate identity from England. Historically, England has dominated the union between England, the principality of Wales, Northern Ireland and the kingdom of Scotland to form the United Kingdom, and this has been the case since the Act of Union was passed in 1707 CE between Scotland and England, the Act of Union 1801 CE between the main British islands on the island of Ireland, and the Act of Union 1536 CE United the government of the principality of Wales with the Parliament based in Westminster. Therefore, Burns Night celebrations have become synonymous with celebrating Scotland's cultural contribution to the world.

The Cultural Importance of Robert Burns

The history of the British Isles is one of warfare and violence. The Norman French aristocracy, in terms of culture and its legacies since 1066 CE, began to dominate and expand their control over the British Isles and the island of Ireland from the 11th century onwards. What this means (in a very brief version of the history of Great Britain and its people) is that a cultural genocide or cultural evolution opened... but this will not be the skull of this article. This background information sheds light on understanding the significance of Robert Burns, and that his memory is not necessarily based on his existence, but rather the people of Scotland grasping to a Scottish identity-based in old Celtic traditions that no longer exist and have not existed for a very long time.

Today, the Scottish celebrate Robbie Burns in many different ways. He’s seen as a legendary devotion to the people of Scotland, the nation of Scotland, and the Scottish cultural traditions that many believe are being eroded. In the historical context of Scotland, this has been true since the fall of the 11th century, now quasi-mythical, Macbeth - the last Highlander King of Scotland. Scottish culture was then slowly moving away from its Celtic roots, instead deviating towards a more anglicised and Francophone culture that has carried through to today.

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