Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet is celebrated for his many poems, lyrics, and pieces on political and civil issues. When he died, a few of his close friends began to commemorate his life; a few years after the bard had passed. Eventually, the holiday moved to his birth date and has been celebrated then ever since.
A Bit about Robert Burns
Known to the Scots as “Rabbie Burns”, this “Bard of Ayrshire” was born in Alloway, Scotland on January 25, 1759. His most famous work is that time-honored New Year’s Eve song, Auld Lang Syne, and sung in many parts of the world. Scotland’s “favorite son” had a short but productive life and died in Dumfries, Scotland on July 21, 1796.
Burns Night Menu
What is a holiday without food, right? Well, the Scots have the Burns Night menu well planned. In fact, there’s a long-standing ceremony to this celebration, even an order to the food service.
- Cock-a-Leekie Soup – made of roasted chicken, chicken stock, leeks, and prunes. The soup is often thickened with rice or barley.
- Haggis – minced organ meat of a sheep, mixed with beef or mutton suet, and oatmeal, seasoned with cayenne pepper and other spices. It’s boiled in the stomach of a sheep.
- Neeps and Tatties – boiled mashed swede (rutabaga) and mashed potatoes.
- Whisky – a dram is taken during the main course of haggis, neeps, and tatties.
- Cranachan – made from a mixture of fresh raspberries covered in whipped cream, whisky, honey, and toasted oatmeal that has been soaked overnight in a little bit of whisky. It’s served with sweet oat wafers.
- Clootie Dumpling – a dessert made of flour, bread crumbs, dried fruit (sultanas and currants), suet, sugar, spices, milk, and sometimes golden syrup. It’s wrapped in a floured cloth and simmered in boiling water for a couple of hours. It is then lifted out and dried in an oven before it’s served.
- Bannock – a flatbread made of oatmeal and wheat flour, baked in a pan. Bannocks are often served with a cheese board, after the meal and dessert, accompanied by tea and coffee.
Burns Night Running Order
There is a sequence of events to a Burns Night meal that involves music, poetry, and a bit of poking fun. This is the typical running order of the celebration.
- Piper’s Welcome – traditionally guests are welcomed with bagpipe or other classic Scottish music. At formal gatherings, top table guests are “piped in” to the dining room.
- The Selkirk Grace – in honor of Robert Burns’ visit to the Earl of Selkirk where he was asked to say “grace” at a meal. It’s typically recited before dinner is served.
Some folk hae meat that canna eat,
And some can eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thanket!
- Parade of the Haggis – a piper leads the chef, who carries the plated haggis, into the dining room playing some traditional tune on his bagpipes.
- Address to the Haggis – the designated reader will recite Burn’s Address to a Haggis. An apology is made for “killing the haggis” and a knife is plunged into the haggis to slice it open whilst this phrase is spoken: “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight” (“And cut you up with skill”)
- The Meal – the haggis is piped back into the kitchen and prepared for dinner. It is removed from the sheep casing and served with neeps and tatties.
Music, Poetry, and Sarcasm
After the Burn’s Night dinner, the festivities continue with all sorts of entertainment and sarcastic remarks. It’s all done in fun with the heckling and table-thumping replies. After all, it’s tradition.
- Burns Night Address – known as the Immortal Memory, a pre-selected guest will give a speech in honor of the life and works of Robert Burns. The address is concluded with guests standing, raising their glasses, and toasting “To the immortal memory of Robert Burns!”
- Songs and Music – singers and musicians will perform a Robert Burns song or two such as My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose or Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin.
- Poetry Readings – the music is typically followed by some readings of Burns poetry such as Tam o’Shanter or To a Louse.
- Toast to the Lassies – the males of the party are to praise the role of women in the world today. To offer something particular to the ladies present is, of course, more meaningful. This is usually done by quotes from Robert Burn’s works, which often humorously pokes fun at women’s idiosyncrasies.
- Reply From the Lassies – it’s generally given by a female, who will try and say something nice about men and often throw in lighthearted sexist remarks.
- Words From the Host – the host thanks the attendees for coming and for those who participated in the night’s celebrations.
- Auld Lang Syne – the guests are invited by the host to join hands and sing a round of Auld Lang Syne.
Your Burns Night Experience
Honestly, I would love to attend one of these celebrations. I’ve never had haggis or whisky before and I know I would need the later in order to eat the former.
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Have you participated in a Burns Night commemoration? If so, please log into our website and post your comments on this blog post. Cheers, mates!