What to expect on Burns Night

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

The 25th of January, 2010 is the 251st anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s Bard.

On this day all around the world, there will be people celebrating his life and work with a Burns supper. At these suppers poetry by Burns is recitied and people will enjoy the traditional Scottish dish of haggis, along with neeps and tatties, with it all washed down with some whisky. At some suppers the night may even end with a ceilidh.

The first Burns suppers were held in Ayrshire by friends of the poet at the end of the 18th century. These, though, were actually held on anniversary of Burns’ death, 21st July, rather than on his birthday as it is today.

Each Burns Nights will be different to the next, but there usually is a certain order in which the main forms of entertainment happen. If a piper is present, then he’ll play as the guests arrive. Once all of the guest are seated the host will welcome everyone and get the night started.

To get things started the Selkirk Grace is recited to usher in the meal.

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.

The first course is usually a traditional Scottish soup, normally Scotch broth or Cock-a-leekie. Once the soup is finished and the dishes cleared away the haggis, for some the nights main attraction, is piped in and placed at the hosts table, in a procession usually including a piper and the person who will be addressing the haggis.

And it is the Address To A Haggis which is recited next before it is served.

The speaker normally has a clean knife ready which will be picked up at the line His knife see rustic Labour dicht, and at the line An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht, plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end, to the audiences delight.

Once the address is over a whisky toast will be raised to the haggis, and then the food will be served.

Now that the haggis, neeps and tatties has been served and eaten it is time for the rest of the nights entertainment.

Next is the Immortal Memory, where a guest will give a speech about the life and works of Robert Burns. The speech can be either quite serious, or it can be light-hearted and containing a number of jokes. It all depends on the guest speaker and the target audience. Afterwards a toast is made to Burns. The Immortal Memory is followed by a Toast to the Lassies. Traditionally this was a speech made by one the male guests, thanking the women who had prepared the meal. However, nowadays, it is more of a humorous speech aimed at the female guests, and not necessarily meant to be taken too seriously, nor is it to be too offensive, especially since the lassies get to reply with a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies. This retort is of same nature as the mens toast, and may even refer to some points made in the Toast to the Lassies. With the speechs over, the rest of the evening can be filled with live music, dancing, readings or the singing of some of Burns’ work, as well as having a few drinks. The night is ended with a few words of thanks from the host, and inviting everyone to join in and sing Auld Lang Syne.


About Amanda Moffet

I run www.scotclans.com with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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