Celebrating Burns Night

Celebrating Burns Night

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind…” These lyrics, oft sung to usher in the new year, were, in fact, NOT penned by Scotland’s bard extraordinaire but rather curated, restructured, and enhanced by him to become one of the English-speaking world’s most endearing songs- some argue that it was written originally by James Watson, another famed Scot born a century before. However, Burns is the more celebrated of the two, with Rabbie (as he’s frequently called) considered Scotland’s national poet and father of the Romantic movement.

Burns’ status elevated through the years, achieving cult status in the 19th and 20th centuries, and in 2009, he was voted “the greatest Scot.” However, the first recorded celebration of Robert Burns occurred on July 21, 1801, in Ayrshire, Scotland, at Burns’ old home, the Burns Cottage. Since then, worldwide Burns Clubs have held “Burns Night,” more commonly dubbed “Burns Supper,” annually. In 2017, the Scottish Parliament enshrined the celebration as follows:

“That the Parliament welcomes the annual celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, which is held on 25 January each year to mark the Bard’s birthday; considers that Burns was one of the greatest poets and that his work has influenced thinkers across the world; notes that Burns’ first published collection, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, also known as the “Kilmarnock Edition,” published in 1786, did much to popularise and champion the Scots language, and considers that this is one of his most important legacies; believes that the celebration of Burns Night is an opportunity to raise awareness of the cultural significance of Scots and its status as one of the indigenous languages of Scotland, and further believes in the importance of the writing down of the Scots language to ensure its continuation through written documentation, as well as oral tradition.” (Click to watch the Parliament session in both English and the original Scots.)

The traditional Burns Supper meal consists of haggis, neeps (rutabaga), and tatties (potatoes), accompanied by Scotch whisky and recitations of Burns’ writings. These gatherings usually offer a series of formalized parts, including:

  • Piping in the guests (playing the bagpipes)
  • Host’s welcome and recitation of Selkirk Grace or similar
  • Soup course (Scotch broth, cullen skink, or cock-a-leekie are common)
  • Haggis introduction with pipes, a recitation of “Address to a Haggis,” and a Scotch whisky toast
  • Main course
  • Scotch whisky toast
  • Other courses, including dessert (cranachan or tipsy laird, or similar), oatcakes and cheese, and then coffee
  • Scotch whisky toasts
  • “Immortal Memory of Robert Burns” speech
  • Scotch whisky toasts
  • “Address to the Lassies” toasting the ladies in attendance by a male guest
  • “Reply to the Laddies” response by a female guest
  • Scotch whisky toast
  • Works of Robert Burns (assorted poems and songs)
  • Closing thanks, followed by the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”

Although these Burns Night celebrations may be less formal, the key to success is always the same- free-flowing Scotch whisky praising the late, great Scottish bard!

For recommendations on the right Scotch to serve, please visit these articles: