An English idiot’s guide to Burns Night
Clueless about the Scottish tradition of Burns and how to celebrate it? Let us open your eyes...
Who is Burns?
‘Burns’ refers to Robert Burns (Jan 1759 - 1796), Scotland’s most loved bard. The Scottish poet wrote in the Scots language and standard English which, let’s face it, gives him a one-up on Shakey.
What is Burns Night about?
Burns Night is about Robert Burns. But you had probably figured that out by now. The evening is a traditional Scottish celebration of the life and works of Burns and can involve anything from a small gathering to a big dinner party.
When is Burns Night?
25 January - the birth date of ol Robbie Burns. See, it’s all starting to make sense now, right?
What happens on Burns Night?
Right. So now you know who it’s about, when it happens and why. But how do people celebrate Burns Night? Well, the key to Burns Night is FOOD and lots of it.
Piping in the guests
A big Burns Night celebration involves a piper who is called to welcome in the guests of the evening. If there’s no piper available then traditional music works too, which is handy.
The host of the evening then assembles the guests and introduces the evening’s entertainment.
The Selkirk Grace
A short prayer is read, known as The Selkirk Grace (by none other than Robbie Burns) is read:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
Piping in the haggis
Guests then stand to welcome in the main attraction of Burns Night: the haggis (pictured; made of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep or lamb, stuffed into the animal’s stomach). Click here for a step-by-step guide for making your very own haggis!
Address to the haggis
A reader stands and gives a rendition of ‘To a Haggis’. To address your very own haggis, click here for the full poem.
Toast to the haggis
Yep, we're still on the haggis. Before everyone digs in, the crowd then normally toasts the haggis by raising a glass and shouting: ‘The haggis!’ We feel like we’ve said haggis a lot recently.
The food bit
This is where those at Burns Night eat, drink and be merry. Obviously, the main part of the meal is ‘The haggis!’ but there’s also normally traditional cock-a-leekie soup to start (follow this recipe and make your very own) and Clootie Dumpling (a pudding prepped in cloth) for dessert. Oh and lots and lots of scotch.
Toast to the Lassies
Ladies, this bit is for you. The Toast to the Lassies was once a speech given my a male guest to thank all the women who had prepared the meal. Now, it’s a much more amusing, informal affair and is followed by a ‘Toast to the Laddies’, where the women reciprocate with a speech of their own!
Works by Burns
After all the lovely, entertaining speeches, it’s typical to celebrate the work of Burns (what with this being Burns Night, ‘n’ all). A singing of songs written by the man typically occurs, with tracks such as A Man’s a Man and Parcel O’ Rogues.
At the end of the night a guest will give thanks and all those in attendance will join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne. Yeah, even though it’s not New Year’s Eve!