Published December 15, 2009
Volume 17, Number 12

Pleasanton-Blairgowrie-Fergus Sister City Organization Celebrates Culture with Burns Supper

Especially around Pleasanton, discussions of Scottish culture frequently turn to the Highland Games, a perennial favorite at the Fairgrounds over Labor Day weekend. But this is just one facet of Scotland’s heritage that is celebrated locally. At the end of January, those with ties to the country that gave the world golf will be honoring native son Robert Burns, the beloved author of “Auld Lang Syne” and hundreds of other poems, on the 251st anniversary of his birth.

The annual Burns Supper is a signature event put on by the Pleasanton-Blairgowrie-Fergus Sister City Organization (PBFSCO), the 15-year-old alliance that connects Scotland’s Blairgowrie and Canada’s Fergus, Ontario, with Pleasanton in a loop of mutual friendship and cultural exchange.

The observance of Burns’ life and work is always an elegant, spirited affair, complete with bagpipes and a recitation of his famous “Ode to a Haggis,” in which the dish is described as “Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!” The attire is “Highland formal,” with men in kilts and Prince Charlie jackets and women in evening dress. “The Burns Supper is our main money-raiser to fund things like student exchanges and scholarships,” says Steve Lind, PBFSCO’s immediate Past President. Now in its 16th year, the supper usually attracts a sell-out crowd of about 200 attendees, who engage in toasts, tributes, and general revelry throughout the evening.

Pre-dating Burns, who died in 1796, the Highland Games are believed to have their origins in the medieval Scottish Wars of Independence. “I’ve been told that when the English took away the Scotts’ weapons, this was their way to continue training to be ready for battle,” Lind explains. The caber toss, which entails throwing a huge pole straight ahead, is reputedly a way of creating a make-shift bridge.

The Games are a common link among all three Sister Cities. Fergus’s contest is held in August, and Blairgowrie’s is in September.  Last year a large Pleasanton delegation, including two high school students, was able to make the trip to Scotland for the festivities.

“There were 22 of us staying in an awesome old manor house with about a dozen bedrooms just outside Blairgowrie ,” Lind relates. They shared several meals together, feasting on fresh-picked, home-grown produce. While the house had all the modern amenities, the rural environment “slowed things down to a more relaxed pace.”

A highlight of the trip was an impromptu visit with the retired fire truck the organization had presented as a gift at the official twinning ceremony in Scotland more than a decade ago. “We had just done some touring of the house and then our host took us outside and said, ‘I have an old friend I want you to meet.’ There was our truck! It still had the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department logo,” Lind notes. Now used ceremonially, it is very popular at weddings and community events. “Seeing the truck was a fun surprise we all really enjoyed.” 

The Burns Supper, with musical entertainment by Golden Bough, will be held at the Pleasanton Marriott on January 30. For tickets and other information, visit www.pbsco.org


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