And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
(Robbie Burns, Auld Lang Syne)
On February 4, I helped coordinate a Burns Celebration for New Scots, along with other partner organisations of the New Scot Steering Group (including The Welcoming; Multicultural Family Base; the Ukrainian Association; the Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants Working Group; and Mustard Seed Church).
Over 50 New Scots and volunteers attended, with 11 different nationalities present. The event was hosted by the fabulous Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and featured a traditional meal of vegetarian haggis, neeps & tatties (turnips and potatoes), poetry readings, and a ceilidh (Scottish dance). The guests particularly enjoyed a rousing rendition of the Ode to the Haggis, read in the Scots language and accompanied by a particularly theatrical stabbing of the dish.
For me, the most moving moment came near the end where everyone was welcomed to the floor to join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne. A short description of the song was offered in advance, along with lyrics. Then, to the music of violin and accordion, everyone joined in song. It wasn’t a particularly elegant rendition: the tempo was off, half the crowd were stumbling over the lyrics, and several people were off key. It was absolutely beautiful.
Taken as a whole, the song is about loss. It felt fitting for the occasion, not only because it is one of Robbie Burns’ most famous works, but also because so many of those who joined hands had suffered the loss of homes, livelihoods, and loved ones.
But the song is also about honoring past friendships and loves by remembering them. The holding of hands and joining in song is a powerful way of putting aside differences and perhaps making new friends. I looked around the circle and saw Iranians holding hands with, Ukrainians, Hong Kongers with Canadians, English with Scottish. Muslims and Christians sang together, children and seniors, men and women. What was it that drew together such a diverse group of people with seemingly little in common? And in a church, no less?
While the occasion was a celebration of Scotland’s most famous poet, the real reason behind the event was a group of individuals in Edinburgh who believe in the power of kindness and community to transcend religious, ethnic, or linguistic differences. It is testament to a love that prevails despite an incessant pressure to ignore or despise the ‘foreigner’, to draw the blinds tighter around our own tribe, make the walls higher around our homes, churches and schools.
So, in honour of Robbie Burns, in remembrance of old friends and in appreciation of new, let’s raise a toast. To a love that knows no borders.
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