On 25th January, prepare to celebrate the life of Scotland’s beloved national bard.
Considered to be Scotland’s second national holiday, Burns Night remembers Robert Burns’ exemplary poetry and nationalist spirit. Often referred to as Rabbie Burns, the Scottish poet was one of the leaders of the Romantic movement and a pioneer of eighteenth century literature. Perhaps his most famous work is “Auld Lang Syne”, sung throughout Britain on New Years Eve (or Hogmanay, in Scotland) once the clock strikes twelve. In 2009, the Scottish nation voted him the Greatest Scot and an unforgettable icon.
Read on to find out what goes on during a traditional Burns Night.
The traditions of Burns Night stem from the lasting memory of celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns, on whose birthday the evening takes place. Regarded as Scotland’s national bard, Burns is the most famous lyricist to have written in the Scottish language. The first Burns Night was commemorated on the date of the poet’s death, a few years after he had passed, but this was soon moved to his date of birth. On this day, even two hundred years later, Scotland holds a traditional dinner filled with piping, recitals and, of course, haggis.
“Auld Lang Syne”, sung every year at Hogmany, is Burns’ most popular piece, though he didn’t write the song, only transcribed it: the well-known lyrics instead derive from a far older Scottish song. Scotland’s favourite son is also recognised for his poetry, notable works including “A Red, Red Rose”, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, “Tam o’ Shanter” and “Ae Fond Kiss”.
Burns reached such acclaim not only through the quality of his poetry but because of his liberalist and socialist attitudes, which served as a great source of inspiration to other Scottish writers and revolutionaries following his death. Burns Night is celebrated not only in Scotland but also in England, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Sticking to Tradition
Burns Night can be a formal or informal affair. A casual evening includes a haggis supper accompanied by music and a toast to the poet himself, but a more a formal celebration comprises numerous traditional elements. Many people, particularly in the Scottish Highlands, will wear a kilt for the occasion, and almost all guests will include some element of tartan in their festive dress, likely in the design of a region or family clan. The Scottish St. Andrew’s flag is also displayed, highlighting the patron saint of Scotland.
As the guests arrive, they are welcomed by a piper playing a traditional tune. If there is a high table, the rest of the gathering should stand as they enter and give a round of applause once the piper has stopped playing. Celebrations without a high table will have the evening’s speaker bang on the table to call attention.
Before dinner is served, a prayer of thanks for the meal called “The Selkirk Grace” is recited.
The evening begins with a serving of Cock-a-leekie soup or Scottish broth. This is followed by a main meal of haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), and finished off with Cranachan, a traditional fruit and cream dessert. The food is accompanied by a dram or two of malt whiskey, though some might prefer red wine, and little ones are partial to the Scottish staple, Irn Bru.
The haggis is the star of the show. The silver platter is piped in from the kitchen to the high table, with the guests stood in respect and applause. The head of the table then recites the “Address to a Haggis”, now one of Burns’ most famous poems, speaking directly to the haggis, and at one point cuts the dish from end to end. The haggis is then held above the head at the end of the speech. The entire affair is delivered dramatically, being an apology to the haggis itself.
Source: Time & Date.
While Burns Night does have its customs, this is a time of national celebration, so there are numerous elements of fun that vary from home to home. Continuing the tradition, the meal is succeeded by another toast, this one to the immortal memory of Scotland’s beloved poet. This is followed by the “Toast to the Lasses”, which in the eighteenth century was used to thank the waitresses for their service. Today, however, the men in the room offer a humorous speech on the subject of women, with a little friendly ribbing. The women are then offered the chance to reply, which they always do.
Burns returns to centre stage at this point in the evening. The speaker begins by relating Burns’ life: his powerful ability for literature, his passion for politics and his fervent nationalism. Guests recite the bard’s poetry, leading into a choral rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”.
Some events end there but many go on to include dancing, resulting in a ceilidh. These are a series of coordinated dances with a series of steps repeated on a loop to Scottish music. As everyone’s enjoying themselves, this can last well into the early hours.
Celebrating in the UK
If you’ve not got plans to put on your own event, there are some fantastic Burns Night celebrations across the country. We’ve rounded up a few that might tickle your fancy:
To stick to the traditional, the Ghillie-Dhu will be hosting Burns Night in their stunning auditorium, complete with a live Ceilidh band so you can dance your heels off.
Treat yourself to the full Burns Night menu at the Corinthian Club, with an accompanying luxury whiskey menu and quality entertainment.
If you fancy celebrating Burns Night with a bang, the Big Burns Supper lasts nine days, contains 100 spectacular shows and has an audience of more than 70,000.
Where better to celebrate Burns Night than the poet’s first home; the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum will be a holding a fundraising supper with all the trimmings for an unforgettable evening.
For those who love to dance but can’t make it to Scotland, the Ceilidh Club offers haggis, neeps and tatties buffet style, alongside a traditional toast – but it’s learning the steps that’s the fun part.
Celebrate the evening with a five course artisanal menu at the Crafthouse, accompanied by the City of Leeds Pipe Band and a Chivas Regal whiskey tasting experience.
With Burns Night 2018 fast approaching, get into the Scottish spirit by commemorating Rabbie Burns’ immortal memory with a food and poetry evening to remember.