The best laid (online) schemes: Burns Night 2021 goes digital

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By Victoria Weldon

It is a night when people across the globe come together to celebrate Scotland’s national bard.

Burns Night usually involves large gatherings filled with poetry, song and – of course – haggis.

However, this year the laddies and the lassies will be forced to mark the occasion in a much more subdued manner.

As with almost everything over the last year, the Coronavirus crisis has forced the celebration online, with the Scottish Government calling for Scots to celebrate ‘Burns Night In’ on January 25.

To mark the digital occasion, the University of Glasgow is asking Burns Clubs and Scots around the world to share photos and details of how they are marking the day, using the hashtag #VirtualBurnsNight.

It is hoped it will help towards a research project forming an interactive map of Burns suppers across the globe.

So far, more than 2500 suppers have been captured in the map.

Professor Gerard Carruthers, co-director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies based at the University’s College of Arts, and principal investigator on the The Burns Supper in History and Today project, said: “Robert Burns is global writer whose life and work have given rise to one of the great world cultural phenomena – the Burns Supper.

“At the heart of this celebration of Scotland’s national bard is his word – from poetry to song. And this Burns Night 2021, due to a global pandemic, many of us won’t physically be able to come together.

“In a testimony to the bard’s enduring appeal not only in Scotland but around the world, we are calling Scots, at home and abroad, and lovers of Burns to join with us in Glasgow to virtually celebrate and map this global impact and appeal.

“Burns speaks strongly to people through his words which still have resonance right up to today, not just in Scotland.”

The university is working in partnership with the Scottish Government, who are this year encouraging people to join together in a ‘toast’ on social media.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Burns Night is one of Scotland’s most well-known and best loved celebrations, enjoyed here and across the world. Although we are unable to meet up physically this year, we can still come together and continue the traditions of Burns Night from home.

“This map is an excellent accompaniment to the range of virtual events taking place this year showcasing an incredible array of artistic talent and I encourage everyone to get involved.”

Since the first supper was held in July 1801 by the bard’s close friends as a memorial dinner, it has morphed into a worldwide event celebrating Scotland’s distinctive heritage and culture.

The new interactive map is the broadest, most detailed record of Burns Night activities ever made.

It details the menus, settings, entertainments and orders of ceremony used by suppers throughout the world.

Dr Paul Malgati, a research assistant on the project, said: “We have already sent out invitations to join us for our #VirtualBurnsNight 2021 to 2000 addresses, across more than 140 countries.

“These include Scottish societies, pipe bands, Burns clubs, Scottish country dance group, rotary clubs, British embassies,libraries, museums, schools and universities, which all hosted a Burns suppers or a Burns Night celebration in recent years.

“Considering the effects of the global pandemic, we realised that by bringing together all our contacts, we had a unique opportunity to hold a substantial, virtual event, making up for the cancellation of many Burns suppers across the world. The chief purpose of this ‘Virtual Burns Night’ is to pay a fitting tribute to Robert Burns despite Covid-19. Providing enough of us participate, we hope our combined efforts on social media can attract significant attention to the global community of Burnsians, haggis gourmets, Scots by birth, and Scots by heart who, every year, raise a toast to the memory of Scotland’s national bard.”

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