Sitting in the tour bus outside the oldest church in Dunedin, New Zealand, the bus driver poses an odd question: “Do you want to see how fast a Scotsman with a long sword and wearing a kilt can run?’ Whereupon, he lays his hand on the horn and gives it a good long blast. The Scotsman in the kilt carrying a very long sword twirls around and makes a beeline to the bus full speed.
He jumps on the 2nd step, turns to the amused but shocked tourists and proclaims in a heavy Scottish accent: “Hello, I am Iain Seatter. I came here from Edinburgh, Scotland. I am your host today for the Haggis Ceremony.” For the rest of the trip to Glenfalloch Gardens, he regaled us with many stories of Scotland and how the Scottish came to be in New Zealand. His captivated audience was practically rolling in the aisles from laughter as the bus trundles up the windy road to Glenfalloch Gardens for a morning of riotous fun they will not soon forget .
As the bus arrives at the Gardens the travelers are welcomed with bagpipe music played by piper Ray Goodfellow.
The melodious sound of the bagpipe puts everyone in the mood to participate in the Haggis Ceremony. With Iain (pronouced E-An) in the lead and the piper and visitors following, they are lead up to the cafe where the Haggis Ceremony will take place. At the door, the travelers are warmly welcomed by two Scottish lasses who just happen to be champion Scottish dancers. The dining tables are set for tea. Scones, strawberry preserves, and whipped cream have been put on each table. Tea is steeping in the pot waiting to be poured into the delicate tea cups. And so it begins.
The history of the Haggis is somewhat controversial. There are those that believe the Haggis to be a real creature and those that scoff at that idea. The truth is that the Haggis is a legendary beast known to the Scots as the source of haggis. A fearsome beast (it sounds a lot like a mountain sheep) with it’s right legs shorter than the left or vice versa depending on which Scot is telling the story. Supposedly it could go in only one direction around the mountain. If it turned around, it would lose its balance (because of the short legs) and fall down the mountain. They would then be killed by the Scots to be used for haggis.
Centuries ago the haggis meal was made of poor cuts of meat and innards of a sheep ground up and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. The Scots that emigrated to New Zealand took up the culture of the English and Australians thus forgetting or hiding their own culture. Poet Robert Burns, in an effort to instill pride in their culinary culture recited his poem “Address to the Haggis” when serving haggis. It was compared to the Highland Chieftain’s Procession. So now Iain represents the Chieftain, who goes to battle the Haggis. He is led in by the Piper . Followed by passengers from Holland America Oosterdam cruise ship dressed in rather non-traditional Scottish attire as the sword bearer, the Adviser to the Chieftain and the Whiskey Bearer. Scottish Whiskey is a very important part of the Haggis ceremony. It is well known that the Haggis hates the smell of whiskey. So if you find yourself in the Scottish Highlands, you might want to drink some Scottish Whiskey to ward off the Haggis. Better to be safe than sorry.
Like all ceremonies, there is a prelude that will put you in the mood. In Scottish fashion, the Highland dancers take the stage. Olivia Buchanan-Lettis and Larissa McKechie – National Champion Scottish Dancers from Dunedin, New Zealand gave us a wonderful demonstration of Scottish dance.
This led up to the long recitation of the “Address to the Haggis” as a true Scotsman would recite it. At the end of the ceremony, there is a toast to the haggis and the crowd is invited to partake of the haggis. This brought “Yucks” from some Aussie visitors. Then they are invited to partake of the whiskey. This brought “Aaahs” from everybody. Most people at least tried the haggis. It was made with ground lamb and beef with potatoes and vegetables. It was actually cooked in a sheep’s stomach per tradition. It was served with crackers. It was very good and is reminiscent of tater tot hotdish from Minnesota which is made with ground beef and potatoes.
After a third tasting of the haggis, a kiss on the cheek from Iain was my reward for tasting the haggis. Mind you, not everyone got a kiss but everyone did get a certificate and a tiny bottle of Scottish Whiskey for attending.
We parted ways with Iain at the historic train depot. He went flying up the hill with his kilt and long sword. He was gone but will never be forgotten. The tourists spent some time exploring the depot and then boarded their buses to go back to the ship to complete their New Zealand journey. They will make haggis at home and re-live the Haggis ceremony. Well, let’s not go that far. They will remember Iian and the story of the haggis for years to come.
To read about the order of the ceremony and the complete recitation of the Address of the Haggis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burns_supper#Address_to_a_Haggis
To plan your own Haggis Ceremony: http://www.pipinghothaggis.co.nz
To take a cruise to New Zealand so you too can experience the Haggis Ceremony: http://www.hollandamerica.com
Travels with Karen: https://www.facebook.com/millandpen/