On Sunday 25 January 2015, people around the world will gather together to celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns on Burns Night with food, drink and entertainment.
This famous Scottish tradition has a long history and rich traditions, and it’s easy to plan your own Burns Night and make your own authentic Burns supper.
The Bard of Ayrshire
On 25 January 1759, in a village near Ayr in Scotland, Robert Burns was born. Although his parents were tenant farmers they made sure their son was well educated, and the boy turned out to be not only a keen reader but a skilled writer.
Over the years Burns became known as a Romantic poet, publishing celebrated works such as ‘Tam O’Shanter’, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ and the world famous ‘Auld Lang Syne’. His life was defined not only by his poetry but by his love affairs, financial troubles, radical political views and hard physical labour. He died aged just 37, on 21 July 1796, and has since become Scotland’s most famous son and an inspiration to people around the world.
The first Burns supper was held a few years after his death by his friends, and since 1802 groups of people have come together to remember Robert Burns on his birthday.
Celebrating Burns Night
It’s easier than you might think to plan the evening’s entertainment and prepare a traditional Burns supper on 25 January 2015.
Most Burns Night celebrations follow a format that dates right back to the very first commemorations.
- – The evening starts with the Piping In of the Guests, in which guests mingle and drink while traditional Scottish music or pipe music plays
- – Next the host welcomes everyone as they take their place at the table
- – The host recites the Selkirk Grace, and the starter is eaten
- – Guests should stand while the chef brings in the haggis, to the sound of more pipe music, and clapping from the guests
- – The famous poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ is read by the host, and the haggis cut open. Everyone toasts to ‘the haggis!’ then tucks in to the main meal
- – After the main course you could have a guest perform a Burns song, or recite a poem like Tam o’ Shanter or Holy Willie’s Prayer
- – Next comes ‘the immortal memory’ in which someone speaks about Robert Burns, and concludes by asking everyone to raise a glass ‘To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns’
- – You could follow this with another poem or song
- – A male guest then makes a fun, complimentary ‘Toast to the Lassies’ about the women present, which makes reference to Burns quotes
- – In return, a female guest should ‘Reply to the Laddies’ with a humorous toast of her own
- – The host should thank their guests and then lead them in a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, with everyone linking hands and singing together
Give different guests different poems or speeches to prepare in advance, and make sure everyone who wants to takes part so that nobody feels nervous or left out.
The Burns Supper
Just as with the format of the entertainments for the evening, there is an established menu to serve at a Supper.
- – Start your meal with a cock-a-leekie soup, or potato and leek soup if you have vegetarian guests
- – The star of the meal should always be a haggis for an authentic Burns Night Supper. If you’re not a fan of haggis or have guests who don’t eat meat then try a vegetarian version. Either way, you should make a small cut in the haggis skin before it’s brought to the table to let some of the hot steam out
- – Serve the haggis with neeps and tatties – mashed turnip or swede and mashed potatoes – and a whisky sauce.
- – Your dessert could be a traditional Clootie Dumpling or a sherry trifle
- – Finish the meal with a cheeseboard, oatcakes, and a round of tea or coffee
You can serve the food with wine or beer, and make sure there’s good Scotch whisky on hand for the toasts.
What’s your favourite Burns poem?