North Carolina has one of the highest percentages of Scottish populations in all of the 50 states. The Scots have been here since the early settlements, and much of our heritage and history can be traced directly back to their arrival. By the late 1700s, the Scottish settlers had established small and mostly isolated communities with their fellow countrymen, allowing them to preserve many of the traditions they brought with them.
Ballads and folklore, music and storytelling, handmade craftsmanship and agricultural process – these iconic symbols that are so intertwined with Southern Appalachian culture have deep roots in the original customs and practices brought over from our Scottish ancestors. This proud heritage is evident in celebrations, festivals, and events all throughout the year, but something special happens on January 25th. Scottish descendants everywhere don their kilts and play the pipes in honor of Scotland’s own “National Bard.”
Who is Robert Burns?
Storytelling is one of the greatest contributions that Scottish immigrants made to Western North Carolina, and Robert Burns is arguably the best Scottish storyteller of them all. While he may not have been one of the settlers in these parts, his influence is felt far and wide.
Robert Burns (born January 25, 1759 – died July 21, 1796) is the national poet of Scotland and is one of the most widely read Scottish poets both in Scotland and around the world. With his songs and poems, he led the way for the Romanticism movement, which put a great emphasis on emotion and nature. This is evidenced in works like Scots Wha Hae, which was basically Scotland’s unofficial national anthem for years, A Red, Red Rose, and Auld Lang Syne – yes that Auld Lang Syne, the one we all sing at midnight every New Year’s Eve.
But for Burns fans, New Year’s Eve isn’t the time to celebrate. Instead, a supper is held in the poet’s honor every year on or around his birthday on January 25th.
Burns Night: A Scottish Tradition in Western North Carolina
The very first Burns Night was a supper held in memory of Burns by his friends on the fifth anniversary of his death. The tradition spread and has been going on ever since. Suppers can be formal or informal, but there are some general customs that take place at each one. There is typically a recitation of Burns’ poetry, a dram of Scotch whiskey, and a serving of haggis. Burns himself commemorated the dish in his poem Address to a Haggis. (Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, usually made from the animal’s stomach. It’s actually a lot tastier than it sounds.)
You can find Burns Nights all over Western North Carolina, including here at the Meadowlark Motel. Our Smoky Mountains Highland celebration brings together all the Scottish influences on Southern Appalachian culture like the mountains and woods, the people and music, and the rich heritage and entertaining stories that make Western North Carolina such a compelling place to visit.
Read more about our Burns Night Event and join us for an authentic experience. Enjoy traditional food, music, poetry, storytelling, and live performances from a true Scott, our Artist In Residence, the Blaxcotsman and former drummer for Simple Minds, Mike Ogletree. It will be a night to remember, filled with a new and unique look into the rich Scottish culture that fills the mountains of Western North Carolina.