Bosnia and Herzegovina, Expat Experiences

Burns Supper (Burns Nicht) in Bosnia 2012

Burns Supper (Burns Nicht) in Bosnia 2012

As all good Scots know, 25 January is an important date.  Namely, it’s the birthday of our most famous poet, Robert Burns (also known as Rabbie Burns).

To celebrate the life of this famous bard, many folk partake in a traditional supper of haggis (if you don’t know what the delicious national Scottish dish consists of, don’t Google it, that’s my advice) and have a wee shindig.

Sometimes groups put on a much bigger event with speeches, a nice meal and a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lay), which is a gathering with traditional Scottish music and dancing.

Robbie Burns

Mr Burns himself

The Caledonian Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I’ve not been to a Burns Supper since I was 17 and Alister, not at all (shameful, and he calls himself Scottish?) but The Caledonian Society of BiH hold one each year and in style, too.

The event is well planned, publicised and substantial in size so a good time is guaranteed, not least because of the touches of home (such as haggis and whisky) that are part of the deal.

It seems most of the local Scots in the area (and sometimes further afield) attend along with a wide representation of the other nationalities.  Any profit from the event goes to a local charity so it’s all for a good cause too.

Inclement Weather

This year we were excited to attend the ceilidh but the weather had its own plans.  For the first time in 10 years, Sarajevo (actually, most of Eastern Europe) was buried under several feet of snow and at one stage, it looked like the Burns Supper may have been under threat of cancellation.

However, Sarajevo rose to the occasion in grand style and around 80% of the attendees battled snow drifts, car breakdowns, hypothermia and an official State of Emergency to attend – nothing stops the Scots (and their cousins) from a party!

Despite the weather, a fantastic time was had by all.  The haggis had to be bravely rescued by courageous adventurers from whence it was made, channels were dug out of the snow for attendees to siphon their way in, people arrived in full ski gear and we even gathered up a few last minute attendees who couldn’t leave the city as previously planned.

On the personal front, luckily our babysitter made it to the house, something that was also in doubt earlier in the day, so we were both able to attend.  In our ski gear, obviously.

Some photos of the night’s festivities.  I don’t know what time it wound up but dancing had not long started before we absolutely had to leave at 1am, having promised our babysitter we’d be home “around 11ish”.  Oops.

Still, more than worth it and if you’re in the area around this time of year, attendance should be viewed as compulsory Smile.

The Ceremony

Address to a Haggis

Next step is the infamous Address to a Haggis*, written by Burns in 1786, and at our Supper this was energetically presented by the Society’s very own Duncan Spinner, wielding – appropriately – a snow shovel for the dissecting of the haggis.

Don’t worry, we all got our own portions accompanied by the traditional sides of neeps and tatties (mashed turnip and potatoes) that had not been savaged by tools.

Subsequent to the Address are some more speeches but don’t let dishearten you if you are thinking of attending a supper.

The speeches are generally light in tone, comedic and with not a little black humour.  Well, ours were as well as being beautifully presented by the relevant parties.  The speeches are as follows:

Immortal Memory – a memoriam of Burns’ life

Appreciation – A thanks to the previous speaker

Toast to the Lassies – Traditionally a speech given by a man in thanks to the women (a lassie being of the fairer gender) who had prepared their meal.

Certainly in this house the meal in question is much more likely to be prepared by Alister Winking smile however today the speech tends to be less traditional and much more fun.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies – A rebuttal on behalf of the women, given by a female guest and equally as light hearted.

Ceilidh dancing

Ceilidh dancing

Ah, the dancing!  Ceilidh, or traditional Scottish dancing, is generally a group activity (with the odd dance for couples) and very, very energetic!  Prepare to end up with bruises and very sore feet when attending a good ceilidh – I’d go so far as to say if you come home without any bumps and bruises it means you’ve not really had that much of a good time Winking smile

It’s also a great opportunity to spot the Scottish National Dress – the kilt – being sported by the menfolk.

The size of the dance can range to small, impromptu gatherings to larger, more social events and even sometimes charitable or record breaking attempts.

For example many attempts have been made in Edinburgh and Glasgow at a record Strip the Willow and the Guinness Book of Records currently has the world record for a Highland dance as being held by Nairn Associated Schools Group for a Dashing White Sergeant with 1,453 participants in 2007.

The music is generally provided via traditional instruments such as fiddles, tin whistles, guitars and accordion.  It’s very lively and fast, so keeping up is both a must and often impossible leading to some hilarious timing issues.

Pictures of the Ceilidh Dancing

The photo above is the starting position for Strip the Willow.  It’s not necessary to be adept at Scottish dancing before attending a ceilidh, the steps are often called out by a MC and the more knowledgeable members of your party will keep you straight.  The point is just to have fun.

This dance is set up in two lines, as you can see, with your partner opposite you but you dance with each person on your side of the line, joining up with your partner in between turns.   We had enough couples to make two long lines and the result was :

Chaos on the dancefloor

Chaos!!  But in a good way Smile

Dashing White Sergeant

This is – I think – the Dashing White Sergeant.  There’s a video at the bottom of the page that does a much better job by way of demonstration than I could do by explanation.

Burns Supper (Burns Nicht) in Bosnia

Scots singing passioinately

The band and a few patriotic Scots singing The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.

Dana's Delight

An action shot of Dana’s Delight which involves flinging the womenfolk around at high speed, attempting to achieve lift-off.  Or so it seems to observers, who must watch out for flying high heeled shoes.

Mr and Mrs Cumming on a rare night out

We danced the Gay Gordons, one of my favourite dances and, along with every other couple on the dance floor, entirely lost the timing.  The result was something of a car crash.  Nearly literally… And I lost a shoe.  This is actually one of the tamer dances, believe it or not!

Delicious pudding

After a lovely meal we had a very nice pudding.  I ate the rest of the courses too fast to take photos but managed a pause before the pudding.

Sarajevo Snowed In

Snowy Street

The snowy streets that revellers slid along to get to the Supper

Baščaršija at night

On our walk home, around 1am, we marched through the Baščaršija (there was certainly no chance of public transport given the weather) and saw this scene.  It was actually quite charming but after three weeks of being snowbound, we’re quite fed up of it now.

Address to a Haggis 


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