Burns Night, on 25 January, celebrates Robert Burns’ birthday. The traditional way of honouring this event is with a Burns Supper. There is a strict running order to a Burns Supper which serves traditional Scottish foods and celebrates the poet’s life and work through food, recitation, speeches and entertainment. Many people celebrate Burns Night in their own homes or with friends, using some elements of the formal supper outlined below.
At they arrive guests may be greeted by the organiser, chair or a piper. Once all are seated the organiser/chair welcomes guests and explains the purpose and sometimes structure of the evening. This is followed by a recitation of “The Selkirk Grace”, a prayer/poem often attributed to Burns though some argue he was not the original author.
Guests stand as the haggis is piped in ceremonially. A procession headed by the piper is followed by the chef who carries the haggis above head height on a platter. Guests sit as the haggis is greeted by a recitation of the Burns poem “Address To A Haggis”. As part of this performance the speaker cuts open the haggis, ideally ensuring some of the guts of the haggis fall out for all to see. The whole company is invited to toast the haggis before embarking on their meal.
A Burns Supper will have haggis as its central dish (there are also vegetarian versions available for non meat eaters). The haggis will be accompanied by neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes with lots of butter and milk/cream). Other foods often found at a Burns Supper include cock-a-leekie soup, Scotch broth, clootie dumpling, cranachan, oatcakes and bannocks.
Following the meal Burns songs and/or poems are performed. During interludes in the entertainment three key speeches take place:
1) The Immortal Memory dwells on Burns’ life, work and politics.
2) Toast To The Lassies. A humorous celebration of women, often scattered with Burns references.
3) Reply to the Toast to the Lassies. A woman’s chance to respond to the toast, frequently humorous and highly entertaining.
The evening concludes with a Vote of Thanks followed by guests joining hands to sing Auld Lang Syne.
If you do not have the opportunity of attending a traditional Burns Supper, consider hosting a smaller version in your own home. Should you choose to include any songs, speeches, recitation or readings as part of the event, it may give both you and your guests a greater appreciation of why Robert Burns is revered as Scotland’s national poet.