Scots welcome Burns anniversary in homecoming year
By Ian MacKenzie
EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Revelers across Scotland gave a warm New Year's welcome to the country's official "homecoming year" and celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of its most famous poet, Rabbie Burns, on Thursday.
Scotland's devolved nationalist government has declared 2009 to be Homecoming Year to attract visits and support from the Scottish diaspora it estimates to number around 100 million people worldwide.
It is twinning the homecoming with the anniversary of Burns' birth in Ayrshire on January 25, 1759, marked annually with traditional haggis dinners, recitations and toasts by enthusiasts from many nations.
About 140,000 people flocked to central Edinburgh on Wednesday night to celebrate Hogmanay with one of the world's biggest annual street parties, songs, dancing, fireworks shooting from the castle ramparts -- and a mass rendition of Auld Lang Syne, the iconic song of fellowship and remembrance Burns wrote in 1788, eight years before his early death.
Several hundred police patrolled the party area but said there had been no trouble on a mild and -- for once -- rain-free night.
"Homecoming Scotland will be a marvelous celebration of all things Scottish: Burns himself, golf, whisky, our proud heritage and Scottish scientific advance and achievement," government leader Alex Salmond said in a New Year message.
"Homecoming is a chance for Scotland's international family, and all who feel an affinity for our nation, to come back and reconnect with our heritage while also learning what being a citizen in Scotland in the 21st century actually means," he said.
The government also hopes an influx of visitors attracted by the celebrations and the weakness of sterling will give the tourism industry a welcome boost at a time of global economic turmoil.
A variety of events is planned, ranging from January's Celtic Connection music festival in Glasgow, through the British Open golf tournament at Turnberry from July 16 to 19, the world's largest clan gathering and highland games at Edinburgh's Holyrood Park on July 25 and 26, and a focus on the 18th century Scottish enlightenment at the Edinburgh International Festival in August and September.
Scotland's national drink will not be forgotten, with the Speyside Spirit of Whisky festival for 10 days in May.
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