How To Celebrate Burns Night
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
Burns Night is nearly upon us and some of us like nothing more than tucking into Haggis, tatties and neeps (washed down with a wee dram of whisky of course) to warm up on a wet, windy and wild january night. This is your definitive guide to enjoying everything Scottish on this annual occasion.
Why Burns? Why Now?
Burns Supper is the annual celebration of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns. Every year, on his birthday (25 January), friends and families all over the world (but especially in Scotland) get together to enjoy each other’s company, traditional Scottish food and the poetry of the man himself. For over 200 years, this custom has been taking place in homes and halls from the Highlands to the Lowlands and beyond.
If you’re planning to host a Burns Night party this year, at the bare minimum, you’ll need a haggis. Now, it’s not something that’s to everyone’s tastes but many (myself included) think they’re delicious. If you’re put off by the ingredients (offal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea), you can also find vegetarian versions that are equally as yummy.
The other thing you’ll need to do is memorise the above poem. This is taken from Robert Burns’ own Address to a Haggis and while the poem itself is several stanzas long, this is the one that’s most memorable and captures the importance of the Haggis as the ‘Great chieftain o the puddin’-race’.
And you’ll need to have someone to share it with, either your friends, your family, or both.
On the Night
As host, you’ll need to make a brief speech welcoming all of your guests to the supper. This ‘opens’ the supper and it can be a great way to introduce your guests to the customs involved and a bit of Scottish culture.
Before you eat, you’ll need to utter the Selkirk Grace, another of Burns’ poems that serves as a short way to give thanks for the meal you’re about to enjoy. Its words are:
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 a first course of broth or soup, the big moment of the night comes next. As your guests sit around the table in anticipation, the bagpipes start to play and the haggis is brought to the table. Now, worry not if you’re not the most proficient piper. A recording is always preferred to an amateur rendition – it’s possible to make this instrument sound wonderful, but many without the years of practice required tend to make them sound like a screaming beast with a bad temper. A CD will do just fine.
Then comes the address as mentioned above. The first stanza is the key, but if you fancy trying to do all eight, you might want to start practicing now.
The Meal Itself…
After the address, you should be tucking into warm haggis, tatties and neeps. The tatties are mashed potatoes with plenty of butter and cream, and the neeps are turnips, again mashed with butter and cream.
A nice, sugary desert should then be followed by some oatcakes and a selection of cheeses, and there should be a dram or two of a good Scotch Whisky served throughout.
A Group Effort
When the meal’s done, three of your guests, and yourself need to take part in the closing remarks that finish the meal itself.
One of your guests should speak of the Immortal Memory of Burns. This short speech can be either funny or serious, but it should be educational too.
Then, as host, you should thank the previous speaker and perhaps comment on any of the jokes or points raised in his or her address.
A Toast to the Lassies comes next. Traditionally, a male guest would thank the women who prepared the meal, though in more modern times it has become a way of paying homage to women, often with jokes and pleasantries.
Then a female guest should stand and give the Reply. A reciprocation to the previous address, this again should have plenty of jokes and compliments too about the men at the table, and men in general.
When all of that is done, it’s time for drinking, dancing and singing aplenty. If any of your guests fancy giving readings of Burns’ poems, all the better.
At the very end of the night, when all are ready to head home, as host, you should thank them for their company, before getting everyone to join hands and then singing Auld Lang Syne.
Now, all of that is the traditional way of celebrating Burns Night and in Scotland this will be happening in homes, pubs, restaurants and dining halls all over the country. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to immerse yourself in a wonderful culture and some beautiful poems.
But the most important part of the night is being surrounded by the people you love, and the people who love you. It’s about enjoying good food and having a good time. If you’ve not an ear or a memory for poetry, don’t worry too much about it. The point of Burns Night is to have fun, and be thankful for what you have in your life.