Scotland’s national bard turns 250 this year and his native country is pulling out all the stops to celebrate. Burns, known as much for his sentimental lyrics (“My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” “Auld Lang Syne,” etc.) as he is for his poetry, is so beloved that his birthday (Jan. 25) inspires elaborate feasts called Burns Suppers, featuring haggis, whisky and recitations of his poetry. In previous years, if you weren’t a member of a Burns Society, it would be all but impossible to garner an invite to a Burns Night dinner. But this year, during the Anniversary Weekend kickoff (Jan. 24–25), visitors to Scotland have the unique opportunity of booking several hotel packages that include a Burns Supper (cometoscotland.com).
Even if you don’t happen to be in Scotland this weekend, there are special festivities taking place throughout the year. The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh is running the exhibit Zig Zag, The Paths of Robert Burns, featuring his personal correspondence. And the Mitchell Library in Glasgow hosts Inspired (Apr. 4–Sept. 20), a show of artworks influenced by Burns’s poetry, such as photos by the singer Patti Smith.
Burns loved whisky almost as much as the written word, so the Isle of Barra is throwing a Whisky Galore Festival (Sept. 18–20), with a golf tournament, live concerts, and tastings of single malts. The famed Malt Whisky Trail also joins in the celebrations with Whisky Week in November. Participating distilleries will sponsor a series of gala dinners pairing their signature tipple with local dishes.
Those with Scottish ancestry will want to grab their kilts and head to Edinburgh in July for The Gathering 2009 (July 25–26), the largest get-together of clan members in the country’s history. Avid ancestry seekers will also want to check out the new ScotlandsPeople Centre, which is offering visitors a free, two-hour session to research their family tree.
Last but not least, be sure to check out the Robert Burns Heritage Park in Ayr, just a short bus ride away from Glasgow. In the tiny, well-preserved thatched-roof cottage (pictured), Burns was born in 1759. Next door to the cottage, a museum (which is receiving a state-of-the-art-upgrade this year) contains treasures such as a manuscript of the original copy of “Auld Lang Syne” and a window pane from an old inn the Burns inscribed with a stanza of poetry. –Joni Rendon