For Scots, January 25th is a day of remembrance. It is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland's best known poet. This year I have the honor of giving the "Immortal Memory" at a Burn's Night Supper in Dayton, Ohio. What this means is that I get to talk about the poet and extol of virtues of his verse that was written, not in English, but in the "guid Scots tongue." Of course, I will be wearing my kilt and during the evening we will hear the skirl of the pipes. Cynics will say it's cliche and a fantasy that only bears resemblance to the Scottish tourist trade. To which I reply, "I know that! What's your point?"
I am a second generation Scot. My father's family hails from Glasgow and my mother's from Ayrshire (Mauchline, a town where Burns lived and married no less.) No one in my family ever wore the kilt. We were lowlanders, not highlanders. But nowadays a kilt is part of proper formal wear. Those who wear trousers on Burn's Night are either women or men dressed in English fashion!
Before you smirk, let me ask how many poets do you know of who have such a following as to compel people on every continent to go to so much trouble for the chance to hear poetry (and to have done so for over two hundred years)! Most people stumble through "Auld Lang Syne" without ever knowing that it's on Rabbie's list of greatest hits. On the 25th (or around that date) people will sing it in full knoweldge of the poet. They will address a Haggis, toast the Lassies and rebuff the Laddies, and through the whole tongue-in-cheek, will remember that every human who has a proper self-respect (Scot or no) is worthy of the respect of others.
C.S. Lewis (an Ulster Scot himself) once wrote (and pardon the sexist language, both these men were from an earlier age):
"Of course [healthy] patriotism… is not in the least bit aggressive. It asks only to be let alone... In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude toward foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men no less rightly love theirs." The Four Loves
These are echoes of RB who, in verse, proclaimed
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that.
Yes, it is a clearly ethnic celebration and the costume and custom will draw the eye. On the other hand, the sentiment of the poet reaches to a larger clan with larger resposnibilies toward sisters and brothers of Haiti, Darfur, the Middle East, the Gulf Coast, Indonesia... wherever human need calls to a common humanity, and we have ears to hear.
Causes Robert Smith Supports
Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Presbyterian Disaster Relief