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Scotland’s best-loved poet, Robert Burns wrote more than 550 well-known poems before his death in 1796. His themes mainly covered political and civil issues, making him an important Scottish icon for liberalism and socialism. Two and a half centuries later his work is still celebrated annually on his birthday – January 25th, more commonly known as Burns Night. Learn more about the traditional celebration and discover the best places to celebrate in Scotland.
Traditional Burns Night
Piping the guests
The evening begins with a Scottish piper playing the bagpipes to welcome guests to the table, after cheers and applause, everyone is seated, and the host or ‘Chairman’ makes a formal welcome.
The Selkirk Grace
A short prayer Grace at Kirkcudbright, commonly known as The Selkirk Grace, is read to usher in the meal. This is usually recited in Scots.
Piping in the haggis
The star attraction of the meal arrives with a great level of fuss and excitement. Pipers lead the haggis to the table while guests clap to the music until it finally is set down as the centrepiece. Everyone sits in anticipation of the address to the haggis; an entertaining rendition of the famous Burns poem To a haggis is read out by the host.
Toast to the haggis
The whiskey is topped up as the speaker encourages everyone to raise a glass and make a humorous toast to the haggis, this usually involves passionate shouting of ‘The Haggis!’
Served with background Scottish music, the meal is a starter of cock-a-leekie soup, followed by the haggis with ‘bashit neeps and champit tatties’, then a dessert of Typsy Laird, a Scottish trifle, finally ending on a cheeseboard with Scottish oatcakes. This is accompanied by lashings of wine and ale and plenty of neat whiskey.
After dinner, the nervous first entertainer will sing and recite several of the bard’s poems. Then the key speaker gives an impressive account of The Life of Burns, honouring his nationalism and literary genius. A dram in hand, the speaker ends with a heartfelt toast ‘To the Immortal memory of Robert Burns.’ More Burns readings follow.
A toast to the lassies
Originally this was a speech given by a male guest to thank the women for the meal. Nowadays it’s a more general humorous but inoffensive praise to them with reference to a few relevant passages from Burns’ works. Then the toast follows, with all guests exclaiming ‘To the lassies!’
A toast to the laddies
The lassies have the chance to give ‘as good as they get’, with an equally humorous response to the male toast, often the two will collaborate beforehand, so the toasts complement each other, - this witty banter is seen as the humorous highlight of the night.
Auld Lang Syne
Finally the chair rises to thank everyone, and invites them to stand up and sing a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne. One last dram of whiskey may finally finish the whole night off.
Burns Night Today
Today Burns night is celebrated in all sorts of ways - from formal ceremonial dinners or laid back get togethers with modern twists on the menu to comedy nights (Burns was known to have a wicked sense of humour) and packed three day festivals. Whichever way you choose to celebrate, it very rarely excludes a wee dram of whiskey!
The Best Places to Celebrate Burns Night
Edinburgh certainly knows how to celebrate Burns night in style! One of the most popular events is held at Edinburgh Castle where you can celebrate his life with bagpipes, recitals, and steaming servings of haggis at the Burns Supper at Summerhall. If you’re brave enough, you can even participate in the poetry readings.
Glasgow is a great city for celebrating Burns night, bursting with lively, rebellious, and friendly Glaswegians. Visitors can also explore Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, boasting the world’s largest Burns collection, including works translated into more than 30 languages.
There are many Burns night events throughout Glasgow but if you can’t wait until the evening to celebrate, go for the special Burns Brunch at award winning Glasgow restaurant Stravaigin. Hosted by performance poet Johnny Gauld, guests will be treated to a day of piping, poetry, and a three-course brunch menu - booking is essential.
The world’s biggest Burns Night event started in 2012 in Dumfries, where Burns lived his last years, and is a three day festival of music, theatre and dance, across various venues around the city. Inspired by the celebration, rather than the idea that you have to have a degree in scots literature – this festival is about coming together with friends and soaking up the spirit of the locals. Find out more about the acts and events to plan a visit.
For a Burns Night with a difference, Eden Court CREATIVE presents a fun packed event called Haggis, Beasts and Tatties. The night starts with a ‘Haggis Hoedown’, where a team of ‘haggises’ do a lively jig to a pipe band in Falcon Square in Inverness city centre. The procession will continue in the Eden Court Theatre where guests will be treated to performances inspired by the Beasts of Burns poetry, ending on a high note, with live music from the Tattie Band at Eden Court’s Grand Burns Ceilidh.
Celebrate Burns night with an authentic ceilidh supper in the lively city of Aberdeen. Enjoy music from Matthew Maclennan Scottish Dance Band and toast Robert Burns with a traditional Scottish Toastmaster. The Burns Ceilidh Supper takes place in the Beach Ballroom on Friday 22 January 2016 and Saturday 23 January 2016. Doors open at 7:30pm and entry is £27.50 per person and includes a delicious Scottish feast of haggis, neeps & tatties, raspberry cranachan and coffee.