And a wee dram on Burns night


Tonight, January 25, is Burns Night. Traditionally, Scottish-Americans gather to celebrate Scottish poet laureate Robert Burns and, more importantly, sustain Scot culture.

Today, you’ll likely encounter one or more mainstream media references to haggis, kilts, whisky, Burns, bagpipes, highland dancing and the difference between plaid and tartan. Nothing locks in a cultural moment quite like leaving it behind.

My mother’s family are Scottish immigrants, settled in Mapleton, Minnesota. We are Darrochs, affiliated with Clan Donald. It’s an affiliation that’s much more important in Minnesota and America than it is in Scotland because Scotland hasn’t remained bolted to the 19th century. Contemporary Scottish haggis, sheep’s stomach stuffed with oatmeal and sheep organs, is as likely to be flavored with curry powder, stuffed in won tons, or deep fried as it is to be served traditionally. Just not here.

Every Minnesota ethnic group knows this story. The old world traditions, embraced as identity, disintegrate as successive generations meld into the new, shared mainstream culture. Minnesota’s strength flows from the bits and pieces of the old shaping that new. Haggis, lutefisk, kiszka, menudo, or larb can be tough sells to the uninitiated but we find common ground in a shared, celebratory meal.

Really, that’s the lesson of Burns Night, found equally in Syttendmai or Cinco de Mayo. The past informs our present. The better parts, if we let them, guide our future. Minnesota’s public policy choices reflect our shared culture. We do best when we pull together. We do best when we focus on strong schools, affordable healthcare, robust transportation infrastructure and job-creating economic development. Everyone’s cultural past values community. That value carries us forward.

Tonight, if you’re inclined, read a little Burns. Much of his poetry is tremendously funny. Maybe tip a glass of Scotch whisky with dinner. Most importantly, focus on moving Minnesota forward and not on retreating. That, at day’s end, is the true cup o’ kindness.