♔A Guide to Burns Night

Burns Night is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns, held on his birthday– 25 January each year.

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The tradition of Burns Night started in July 1801, when nine of Burns’ close friends got together to mark the fifth anniversary of their friend’s death. (July 21- 1796)

His friends organised a Burns Supper in his honour which included haggis, and more than two centuries later, Burns Night is celebrated by Scots all over the world.

How Do You Celebrate Burns Night?

The full ritual of Burns Night includes: Whisky, haggis and poetry readings.

Suppers can range from an informal gathering of friends, to a large splendid celebration dinner full of pomp and circumstance.

What to Wear to a Burns Night Supper

Burns night is the opportunity to express the Scottish cultural identity, so the wearing of a Clan or family tartan is a must.

If you don’t have a major Scottish Clan or family, you can wear one of the ‘universal tartans’, such as the Royal Stewart – this is the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II or the Black Watch tartan which is still used by several military units in the British Army and other forces in the commonwealth.

Other tartans include: Holyrood, Patriot or Caledonia, these designs can be worn by anyone.

Ladies join in the celebrations by wearing kilted tartan skirts, tartan sashes, scarves and shawls.

Running Order For The Evening (Key points)

Piping in the Guests

The guests are piped in and then The Selkirk Grace – (the prayer of thanks attributed to Burns) – is said before dinner. The Selkirk Grace is also known as Burns’s Grace at Kirkcudbright. Although the text is often printed in English, it is usually recited in Scots.

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

***

Piping in the Haggis

The Haggis is presented on a silver platter. The guests should stand to welcome the dinner’s star attraction, clapping in time to the music until the Haggis reaches its destination at the table. The procession compromises of the chef, the piper and the person who will address the Haggis.

A whisky-bearer should also be at hand to lubricate the toasts over the course of the evening.

The music stops and everyone is seated in anticipation of the Address to a Haggis.

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Address to the Haggis

The honoured reader now grabs the moment to offer a fluent and entertaining rendition of Address to a Haggis.

Address to the Haggis’ is then recited and the “great chieftain of the pudding race” (the haggis) is cut and served. The speaker draws a knife “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht,” cuts the dish open along its length, spilling out some of the tasty contents.

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Toast to the Haggis

Prompted by the speaker, the audience now joins in the toast to the haggis. ‘Raise a glass and shout: The haggis!’

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Once all the fanfare is over, it’s time to serve the Burns Supper with the main course of Haggis and its traditional companions, neeps and tatties.

***

The Burns Supper

Suppers starts with Cock-a-leekie soup or Scotch broth.

“Scotland’s National Soup,” Cock-a-leekie soup consists of leeks, and chicken, often thickened with rice, or sometimes barley. Original recipes added prunes during cooking, and traditionalists still garnish with a julienne of prunes.

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Scottish Classic: Cock-a-leekie soup | Christopher Jones

The crowning glory of any Burns Night Supper is the haggis. A savoury pudding that combines meat with oatmeal, onions, salt and spices. Traditionally accompanied by bashed neeps and chappit tatties – otherwise known as mashed swedes and potatoes.

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Many places around Scotland, from local butchers to independent retailers sell Haggis.

Macsween of Edinburgh is one of the best known haggis producers in Scotland and you’ll see their haggis for sale all year round; it’s available to buy online and can be shipped overseas. They also make a vegetarian haggis “a mix of healthy fresh vegetables, pulses, oatmeal, seeds and spices.”

This is followed by a pudding of either Cranachan, Tipsy Laird, (Scottish trifle) or Clootie Dumpling.

cranachan Photo Christopher Jones

Cranachan |Christopher Jones

Cranachan is delicious dessert made of raspberries, honey, whisky, cheese and oats. Traditionally made with a local soft cheese, crowdie, and cream.

The pudding is best assembled just before serving to prevent the oats becoming soggy. The traditional way to serve Cranachan is to bring dishes of each ingredient to the table so that each person can assemble their dessert to taste. Tall dessert glasses are often used to serve.

The evenings dining ends with a cheese board served with oatcakes. Mull of Kintyre cheddarLanark BlueCaboc cream cheeseClava Brie and a creamy Crowdie are all fine Scottish cheeses perfect for Burns Night.

Scottish cheeseboard without a good selection of oatcakes

Scottish cheeseboard with oatcakes |Geoffrey Smeddle

Immortal Memory Speech

The main speaker delivers the Immortal Memory Speech, where everyone toasts to the immortal memory of Robert Burns. Make sure there is plenty of Scottish whisky to entertain the guests, especially before “the Toast to the Lassies: and “Reply from the Lassies,” now the humorous highlight to the evening.

The rest of the evening is full of songs and recitals of the works of Burns such as the iconic narrative poem Tam O’Shanter.

 ***

Whisky Suggestions to Drink with Haggis

Haggis is rich and peppery, so peaty single malts like Bowmore or Laphroaig from Islay, offer a marvellous match.

Also Hancrafted Single malts such as Balvenie & Blended whisky White Horse (Gold Outstanding), pair excellently with haggis.

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Closing Speech

At the end of the evening the chairman should thank all the guests and a toast made and thanks offered to the host, chairman, chef, piper, etc.

The traditional way to close Burns Night is with a heartfelt rendition of Auld Lang Syne (“the good old days”)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

So “fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face” and raise a toast to the Scottish baird for Burns Night.

Address to a Haggis (translated)

History of Auld Lang Syne

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