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Burns Night: An Englishmans Guide To the Celebrations

Jan 02, 2017

Hello everyone, and celebrate, for Burns night is almost upon us!


Burns night is traditionally a Scottish holiday, held as a celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Best known for penning New Years serenade ‘Auld Lang Syne’, millions of people gather together on the 25th of January, with feasts, drinks and celebrations in his honour. Burns night has many different traditions attached to it – including what food and drinks to serve, what to wear and which activities should be put on throughout the evening. It’s a fun filled evening for all the family that opens up our minds to some beautiful poetry and culture. We’re throwing a few Burns Night celebrations of our own this year, so I wanted to write this little guide to help you understand the traditions, and what we’ll be doing!


A Traditional Burns Supper


While you might think that Burns night is a good excuse to eat, drink and be merry as if it was Christmas all over again, there is a lot of structure to a traditional Burns supper. It’s often an all-night affair with entertainment, speeches and readings, starting with the entrance of the top table…


Piping In The Top Table. At more formal gatherings, the guests of the top table are serenaded to their seat by traditional Scottish music or bagpipes. In more modern celebrations this has been replaced by any kind of contemporary Scottish music to suit the audience.


The Welcome. Once everyone is seated, the chairman or speaker acts as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening. They welcome the guests and introduce the top table and any other important guests before reciting the Selkirk Grace, which goes:


‘Some hae maet and canna eat. And some would eat that want it. But we hae meat, and we can eat, sae let the Lord be thankit.’


Piping In The Haggis. With any Burns night celebration, the haggis is the crowning glory – so it is only right that it is brought in to bagpipe music with an upstanding audience. In more formal gatherings, the chef will bring out the haggis on a silver platter, followed by the piper and the person who will address the haggis.


The Address To The Haggis.  Now we come to the first of many theatrical parts of the evening. The appointed speaker is given a knife and performs a dramatic rendition of Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis.’ After apologising for ‘killing’ the haggis, the speaker plunges the knife into the haggis and slices it open while reciting the line ‘An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight’ (meaning to cut you up with skill). The recital ends with the speaker raising the platter above their head and shouting ‘Gie her a Haggis!’


Toast To The Haggis. The speaker now invites the guests to toast the haggis and everyone raises a glass and enjoys a drink, while servers take the haggis back into the kitchen to be cooked and prepared for the meal.

The Meal. 
Spicy haggis, meats and vegetarian courses are traditionally served with buttery mashed neep and tatties (swede and potato) and sometimes a whisky cream sauce to top it off.


The First Entertainer. During the final course, the first entertainer of the evening will take the stage. They will usually perform one of Burns’ songs or poems, with ‘A Red, Red Rose’ and ‘Tam O’Shanter’ being favourites.


The Immortal Memory. The main speaker takes to the stage again and gives an account of Burn’s life. During this speech particular aspects of Burns’ life (such as his literary prowess, politics, nationalistic pride, faults and humour) should all be explored. This speech is finished with a toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns and the introduction of the second entertainer.


The Second Entertainer. The second entertainer is similar to the first, recounting songs or poems from Burns’ work.


A Toast To The Lassies. In this part of the meal a humorous speech is given, poking fun at the (few!) shortcomings of women with the aim of amusing both men and women. The ‘observations’ are all made in jest and never too cutting, and the speech is always rounded off with the men raising a glass in a toast to the lassies.


The Third Entertainer. More songs, poetry and recitals are performed for the audience’s entertainment.


Reply To The Toast To The Lassies. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair if the women didn’t get to share in the fun! So this section is a chance for the women to give a good natured retort to the men, similar to their speech, ending again with a toast to the opposite sex.


The Final Entertainer. The final entertainer bravely faces a quite ‘merry’ crowd for the final round of songs and readings.


Vote Of Thanks. A vote of thanks is made by the speaker to everyone present, particularly those who have helped make the evening a roaring success.


Auld Lang Syne. A Burns supper traditionally ends with the signing of Burns’ famous poem about parting, Alud Lang Syne. Everyone joins hands in a large circle and sings the words together; crossing each of their hands to re-join those on either side of them at the like ‘And here’s a hand’.


So as you can see, Burns night is a fantastic dip into Scottish culture and traditions, and a great excuse to get together for an evening of fun, food and poetry. This year we are joining in some Burns night celebration being held on the 26th and 27th of January by the Prince’s Trust Charity. Each will follow a lot of these fabulous traditions, along with a raffle and disco for a modern twist! Tickets are just £49 for members and £52 for guests for the 27th, and £25 or £29 for guests on the 26th.  With both of these events some of the proceeds will be going to the Prince’s Trust charity. To view the sample menu and book your place, just click here for the 27th, and here for the 26th. You don’t want to miss this one!


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