Wednesday 28 January 2015

The only Burns Night we need in England

I have been totally bemused by the number of my friends providing social media with details of their Burns Night celebrations.

None of them is a Scot, or resident in Scotland, so the only question that springs to mind is: why?

Deep love for the man, with his gift for conveying the blindingly obvious in partially comprehensible dialect doggerel? Definitely not.

Addiction to haggis? Hardly.

A yearning for the skirl of the pipes? Come on.

An excuse to drink lots of whisky? Yes, but you can do that equally well by your own fireside, or in a pub with chums.

So why Burns Night?

Surely only because it is convenient excuse for a booze-up to lift the spirits after the flood of post-Christmas bills and to raise two fingers to the puritan promoters of Dry January.

An opportunity eagerly latched onto by publicans and restaurateurs to drum up business in the lull between New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.

It is also part of a more general trend to import and enthuse about other people’s festivities, while losing interest in our own.

Yes, I used to wander fruitlessly around Longbenton with a candle in a hollowed-out turnip at Halloween 50 years ago, but the full-blown festival of ghouls, ghosts and trick-or-treating is unmistakably a trans-Atlantic arriviste.

Along with school proms and the lunacy of Black Friday: a retail spending spree that only makes sense in the US because it is the day after their Thanksgiving holiday.

Though only the brave would bet against many British people enthusiastically sitting down to roast turkey and pumpkin pie on the last Thursday of November each year sometime quite soon.

Chinese New Year, St Patrick’s Day, Eid, Diwali – the list of imported celebrations keeps rolling on.

Milad un Nabi, celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, was a new one on me when The Journal recently announced a parade through Newcastle to celebrate it on February 25. Which is odd, considering that most Islamic calendars suggest that it should be marked this year on January 4 and December 24. Perhaps the urge to keep up the Christmas and Burns Night sequence of doing something celebratory on the 25th of each month simply proved irresistible.

Meanwhile Guy Fawkes’ Night has become a shadow of its former self, not helped by the Elfin Safety killjoys who have also done their best to clamp down on other deranged English pursuits like rolling cheeses down hills.

Personally I shall be marking the feast of King Charles the Martyr on January 30 and Candlemas (“the Christian festival of lights”) on February 2, and looking forward to all the fun of Shrove Tuesday on February 17. Why won’t everyone else?

It would be unfair to claim that we haven’t done our fair share of exporting traditions, when the Queen is head of state in 15 other countries from Antigua to Tuvalu, and there are judges and barristers in Africa sweltering under horsehair wigs.

Nevertheless, I think we could try to do even more to promote the joys of English eccentricity around the world. Who can say what it might do for world peace if only we could persuade more nations to take up morris dancing?

Perhaps UKIP might be persuaded to adopt that as official policy. It would make as much sense as many of their recent pronouncements.

Though the Greens are making excellent progress in collaring the loony vote with a range of far left policy revelations, brilliantly elucidated by their Australian leader. The genius who described them as “the Militant Tendency with better PR” was absolutely spot on, apart from the “better PR” bit.

Who can fail to find it utterly delicious that the polar opposite of UKIP is led by an immigrant? I almost begin to think that the dreaded election campaign won’t be so bad after all.

However, when the dust has settled, I suspect that we will look at the go-ahead foreign import of multi-party democracy and endless coalition, and feel nostalgia for that dull old British tradition of choosing between the Conservatives and Labour.

Just as I hope we will come to recognise that the only Burns Night we need celebrate in England falls on the fifth of November.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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