Burns Night: a joyous affair, which centres on hearty Scottish gastronomy, lively entertainment and a good dose of whisky.
Burns Night, also known as Robert Burns Day, was created to celebrate Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796). One of the most prominent characters in Scottish cultural history, Burns wrote hundreds of poems, letters and songs in the Scots language, including the renowned ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
Born on the 25th of January 1759 in a fairy-tale like village called Alloway, he is celebrated on the date of his birth each year (or an evening close to it) with what is known as a Burns Supper. The first Burns Supper was thought to be held in 1801, five years after his death. Close friends gathered to mark the anniversary of the poet’s death, and the tradition continues to this day.
What happens at a Burns Supper
A Burn’s Supper is a joyous affair, which centres on hearty Scottish gastronomy and a good dose of Scotland’s national drink, whisky. The meal is complemented with toasts, poems and songs, with some of Burn’s greatest works recited throughout the evening.
The running order of a Burn’s Supper can vary, and although the majority of Scot’s will be celebrating at home this year, the more traditional events would have usually included the below. So, why not have a go at holding your own Burns Supper and make it a night to remember.
Piping in the guests
To mark the start of the occasion, a piper playing traditional bagpipes will pipe the guests into the dining area. The host will welcome everyone and grace is said, usually the Selkirk Grace, a well-known thanksgiving that uses the Scots language.
The starter is usually a Scottish soup, such as Scotch broth, cullen skink or cock-a-leekie. Following this, the haggis is piped into the room and guests will normally stand to welcome its arrival.
The haggis is considered the main attraction of the evening, a savoury meat fare, made from sheep’s lung, liver and heart combined with onion, oatmeal, and spices. Vegetarian haggis is also usually offered and is a popular choice for those squeamish about the ingredients of the meat variety.
The host or a guest will then perform a rendition of Burns’ poem, ‘Address to a Haggis’. During the performance, a knife is plunged into the haggis and sliced open for serving. The haggis is served with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and dressed with a whisky cream sauce.
Dessert is usually a whisky trifle, known as Cranachan, which features Scottish raspberries, oats and honey. This is sometimes followed by Scottish oatcakes and cheese. Finally, Scottish shortbread or tablet is served with coffee or tea.
After the meal
Once everyone has been fed, the entertainment of the evening moves onto toasts, speeches, readings, songs, dancing and plenty of whisky.
Whisky usually takes centre stage at this point of the evening and there is a dram poured for every toast. One of the most common Burn’s recitals are the ‘Immortal Memory’ and the ‘Toast to the Lassies’.
Some of the larger organised functions will then move on to Ceilidh dancing. A traditional form of folk dancing performed with partners or in groups.
End of the night
At the end of the evening, the host will give a closing thank you speech. After this, everyone will stand, cross their arms and join hands to sing the famous ‘Auld Lang Syne’.