Burns Night-A Celebration of Scotland’s National Poet

It’s the 25th of January, and in Scotland, that means one thing – Burns Night!

Burns Night Suppers are an annual event whereby folks in Scotland and beyond get together to celebrate and commemorate the life and works of Scotland’s beloved national poet, Robert Burns. The Suppers take place each 25th of January on the anniversary of his birthday.

Robert Burns: 1759-1796
Photo:  Public Domain

Robert Burns (also known as Robbie, Rabbie, The Ploughman Poet, and the Bard of Ayrshire) is one of Scotland’s favorite sons. You probably know him best as the man who first penned the words to “Auld Lang Syne.” Perhaps you know him by the verse that reads, “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.” Or maybe you have a fondness for any one of Rabbie’s other 700+ works. He was a prolific writer and covered such topics as death and war, anguish and greed, religion and politics, love and sex, and many other topics in between.

Although archived and no longer updated, I discovered a BBC page dedicated to Burns that lists 716 poems and songs. It allows you to search for works by title, season, theme, and the year written. Well worth a look if you are interested in Rabbie’s poetry!

What happens at a Burns Night Celebration?

Burns Suppers can be informal gatherings of friends, or they can be formal affairs with lots of pomp and circumstance. There are no hard and fast rules, but a traditional Burns Night celebrations usually comprise some or all of the following elements:

  • After guests have arrived and been welcomed, the evening’s festivities commence with a reading of “The Selkirk Grace” (written by Burns).

The Selkirk Grace

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.

  • After this short prayer comes the piping in of the haggis.  The haggis – the star of the meal –  is carried in on a silver tray in a procession that includes the bagpiper, the chef, and the person who will give the address to the haggis.
  • The address to the haggis:  A dramatic reading of  ‘To a Haggis‘ is given (also by Burns). 
  • Next is the meal; traditionally a soup (such as cock-a-leekie), haggis, neeps and tatties, and something sweet (like cranachan or clootie dumpling).  And, of course, whisky.  Plenty of whisky!
  • The entertainment:  There may be musicians, dancers, dramatic readings centered around Burns’ work, and various toasts of appreciation to the Bard.  This portion of the evening also includes a toast to the lassies (rather cheeky, I would imagine), followed by the reply to the toast of the lassies (perhaps even cheekier!)
  • Finally, the evening concludes as guests join hands and sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Believe it or not, I have never been to a formal Burns Supper. I know. It’s a tragedy! Mr. C and I do our own version at home, and we have a blast.

To those of you who celebrate Burns Night, I would love to hear about some of your traditions. How do you celebrate at home? Do you gather with family and friends? Or do you prefer to celebrate in a more public venue? Do you make foods other than the ones I named?

I look forward to reading your comments!

I invite you all to join me next time when I will look deeper into the life of this man – this extraordinary literary figure who captured a nation and the world.

Happy Burns Night!



12 thoughts on “Burns Night-A Celebration of Scotland’s National Poet

Leave a Reply