Held throughout the world on the 25th of January, a traditional Burns Supper is an evening event which celebrates Robert Burns’ life and work. Robert Burns, also known as Rabbie Burns, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. The first Burns supper was held in July 1801 when nine of Burns’ close friends got together to mark the fifth anniversary of their friend’s death. The meal took place at Burns Cottage in Alloway and the night included a meal of haggis, performances of Burns’ work and a speech in honour of the great Bard. Although Robert Burns died in 1796 at the age of 37, his legacy has endured for centuries. If you’re attending a Burns Supper tomorrow, or fancy hosting your own, we’ve outlined some of the traditions Scots follow when celebrating Burns night.
Food & Drink
Haggis is famous around the world for being the traditional Scottish dish. Here’s what else you can expect from a traditional Burns Night menu:
- Haggis – a savoury pudding and the centrepiece of any Burns Supper. Vegetarian options are also available.
- Neeps – neeps are what Scots call turnips and the English call swede
- Tatties- or potatoes if you’re not familiar with Scots dialect
- Whisky – preferably a single malt which is used for the toasts
- Cranachan – a traditional Scottish dessert made from whipped cream, whisky, honey, toasted oatmeal and fresh raspberries
What to Wear
A Burns Supper can be a formal or informal occasion. The event is about dressing up and celebrating Scotland; giving people the opportunity to express their cultural identity through the wearing of a Clan or family tartan. If you don’t have connections to any of the major Scottish Clans or families, you can wear one of the universal tartans, such as the Royal Stewart, Black Watch, Holyrood, Patriot or Caledonia.
Men are often encouraged to wear their full kilt outfit or tartan trews. If you don’t own either, you can still look the part with a classic tartan waistcoat, or even a simple tie or bow tie will add the required touch of tartan.
Women can celebrate by wearing traditional kilted tartan skirts, tartan sashes, scarves, shawls and handbags.
The Running Order
Each Burns supper is individual, but the running order normally goes something like this:
The Selkirk Grace
To start the evening everyone will gather, the host says a few words before everyone sits and the Selkirk Grace is said:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
After the starter has been served, the haggis is piped into the room by a person playing the bagpipes. The host will then perform ‘Address to a Haggis’, everyone toasts the haggis and the main meal is served. Cranachan, a traditional Scottish dish, is often served as dessert.
After the Meal
Once the meal is complete, the first Burns recital is performed. It is the main tribute speech to Burns and is known as the ‘Immortal Memory’. The ‘Toast to the Lassies’ goes next followed by a ‘Reply to the Toast to the Lassies’.
To End the Night
To end the evening, the host gives a vote of thanks before everyone stands and sings ‘Auld Lang Syne’. People cross their arms and join hands at the line ‘And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!’.
Each Burns Supper is individual so if you’re hosting your own you can follow as much or as little of this running order as you like. You can even make your own additions, such as adding a ceilidh or holding a Scottish quiz. Burns Night is about dressing up with a tartan touch and celebrating Scotland; it should be a fun event fill with haggis, whisky and poetry. There are Burns Suppers held all over the world so you may even be able to find an event near you, even if you’re not in Scotland. If you’re about to attend your first Burns Supper, enjoy every moment of this authentic Scottish event and take part in the quirky traditions!