Follow Burns Night through Budapest with the British Ambassador
Wee drams of whisky, heaps of haggis, bagpipe players and Auld Lang Syne… sounds fun, right? These are all essential features of Burns Night, an annual celebration of Scots poet Rabbie Burns that takes place all round the world every January 25th. In Hungary, various venues host Burns suppers, but less is generally known here about the customs and origins of this ritual. To find out more, we meet the truest Scottish patriot in the Magyar metropolis, British Ambassador Iain Lindsay OBE, who warmly welcomed us at the Embassy to talk about tradition, haggis, whisky and his love for Budapest.
Mr Iain Lindsay OBE was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Hungary in March 2016, and has quickly gained popularity in the country thanks to his evident affinity with Budapest and Hungary. Having served in Bucharest, Romania, for five years, Mr Lindsay acquired a sense of the region, and it was a conscious decision for him to move to Hungary and become better acquainted with its history and culture.
Mr Lindsay learned the language in just under a year and leads a localized lifestyle, going to the Fény Street Market or to Majorka – his favorite place – with his wife at weekends, going on walks in the snowy Buda Hills and occasionally taking the metro or tram. Ambassador Lindsay loves Budapest; for him, crossing the Danube is a special experience each time, and one of his favorite sights is looking upriver from atop Gellért Hill, admiring the picturesque panorama.
This time last year, Mr Lindsay made his own video for Burns Night, presenting in his finest kilt Budapest’s many links with Scotland, highlighting places and people with Scottish-Hungarian connections. In it, he visits the Chain Bridge, the first permanent structure across the Danube here, completed by Scottish engineer Adam Clark, alongside his own Buda Castle Tunnel and the roundabout that later took his name. Afterwards, he takes us to the Jane Haining embankment that is named after Scotland’s only Holocaust hero, matron of the girls’ home at the Scottish Mission Church, saving lives as the war took its terrible course. He finishes the tour at the Caledonia, Budapest’s only authentic Scottish pub, where the whisky choice is plentiful and the welcome traditionally warm.
Burns Night is a true celebration of Scottish culture and strong national identity, something that – as Ambassador Lindsay points out – is brought home in the famous 1995 film, Braveheart. The first Burns celebration was held in honor of the life, work and cultural contribution of Robert Burns by his friends on the fifth anniversary of his death in 1801. Originally it was celebrated by men only. It has been a regular event ever since, held on or around the birthday of the 18th-century bard, January 25th, ladies now more than welcome. Nowadays, Burns Nights also celebrate Scotland’s culture and can span anything from a formal dinner to wilder parties.
As Ambassador Lindsay tells us, the traditional parts of a Burns Supper are speeches, bagpipe music, whisky and – today – dancing. The centerpiece is always haggis, Scotland’s national dish, a savory pudding containing sheep’s pluck, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, mixed with stock, originally encased in the animal’s stomach.
Haggis has also jokingly been described as a mythical creature with legs, therefore the host first praises the beauty of the imaginary animal, reciting Burns’ famous poem, Ode To A Haggis, then pulls out a dagger from his socks below the kilt and kills the haggis by stabbing it several times. Afterwards guests tuck into their dinner and a fun-filled feast is enjoyed, fuelled with whisky that gets the crowd into the swing of things, readying them for dancing and a joyous Cèilidh.
In Budapest this year, there are several days of celebrations. On January 24th, Iain Lindsay OBE donned a tartan kilt and welcomed guests to a traditional private dinner at his residence on the Buda side. On January 25th, the Brody Club Life takes a twist on the traditional Burns Night celebration and combines the great bard’s poetry with a delicious cocktail tasting, traditional food and a tailor-made Scottish playlist. The kilted bartender holds a guided tasting of Burns-inspired cocktails, whiskies and more.
On January 27th the annual Budapest Burns Night Supper is being held at the beautiful ballroom of the Corinthia Hotel organized by the Robert Burns International Foundation – a charity organization – complete with haggis, whisky, live bagpipe music and special surprises. On January 28th, the Corinthia holds a Scottish Brunch of tasty treats and a bagpipe band.
Traditionally in Budapest, the Wee Burns Supper takes place on the Tuesday after the RBIF dinner, and held at St. Columba’s Scottish Presbyterian Church (Budapest 1064, Vörösmarty utca 51). The event is slightly more low-key than the grand supper at the Corinthia, but is regularly a sell-out, and guests can also get a glimpse of all of the elements of a real Burns Supper. A three-course dinner is served with drinks, while live music and dance shows entertain visitors.
Wherever you end up celebrating Burns Night, raise a glass – perhaps full of Laphroaig, Mr Lindsay’s favorite whisky – for all patriots and Scots at heart!