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There are few celebratory events that have so many customs that must be adhered to; everything done in a certain order and in a specific way, as Burns’ Night, a worldwide celebration of Scotland’s national bard.
Where many traditional events evolve and change shape according to the latest tastes and trends, Burns’ Night is an institution; a series of traditions that we all enjoy once a year but perhaps when we think about it, we don’t really know very much about where they came from or why we still do them!
To celebrate the 25th January 2020, we’ve pulled together a brief history of Burns’ Night and guide for you to ponder as you raise a toast to the haggis this year!
The origins of Burns’ Night
The first celebration of the life and work of Robert Burns was held in July 1801. Friends of the poet gathered at Burns Cottage in Alloway to mark the fifth anniversary of his death with the event centred around the ‘great chieftan o’ the pudding race’ – the haggis, free flowing drinks, poetry and music. A great night was had by all (we can only imagine!) and a more formal supper was held the following year, this time organised by a group of Ayrshire merchants in Greenock who gathered to share Burns’ poems and songs, starting what has now become a worldwide tradition.
A savoury pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and stock (are we tempting you?) - haggis was a way of using the least expensive cuts of meat and innards to produce a hearty meal for the less well off in early 19th century Scotland. Robert Burns of course wrote the Address to the Haggis – ‘Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!’ What else would we serve today? (We bristle slightly at thoughts of what the alternative might have been in those days!)
For the perfect desert, why not try our Fruit Shortbread Caramel Trifle Recipe!
Drinking and socialising was one of Robert Burns’ passions and in 1785 he wrote the poem ‘Scotch Drink’, mentioning one of the whiskies of the period – Ferintosh, which came from north of Inverness. A great many of his poems and songs were tributes to whisky and evenings enjoying poetry, song and free flowing hospitality!
Whisky is traditionally served at Burns’ Suppers although nowadays, whisky cocktails are also popular, so if you don’t tend to gravitate towards the amber nectar, you might want to offer a casual nod to tradition with our Don’t Thistle My Pink cocktail.
The running order
If you’re attending an informal party to celebrate Burns’ Night, there are just three ‘must do’ traditions; toast Burns, toast the haggis and enjoy an evening of poetry, song, fun and great hospitality.
If you’re attending a traditional Burns’ Supper, things will flow in a certain way!
Piping in the guests
A piper plays as guests arrive and mingle and if it’s a formal event with a top table, these guests will be piped in as guests clap in time to the music until everyone is seated.
The host offers a warm welcome to guests and introduces the running order and entertainment for the evening
The Selkirk Grace
One of the most important parts of the evening – a short prayer is read by the host as the meal is ushered in:
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.
Piping in the Haggis
One of the highlights of the evening of course! Guests stand to welcome the arrival of the haggis which is brought into the room on a silver plate by a procession which includes the chef, the piper and the person who will address the haggis.
Address to the haggis
This is usually performed by an exuberant, energetic sort – a moment of glory with a lively rendition of ‘To a Haggis’! The haggis is then raised high, to which guests will cheer and clap.
Toast to the Haggis
Guests are then invited to raise their glasses and shout ‘The haggis!’ and the meal is then served.
Following the meal, the first round of entertainment begins with a recital of Burns’ poetry and songs such as ‘A Red, Red Rose’ and ‘Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever’.
The immortal memory
The speaker will paint a colourful picture of the Bard through tales of his life, exploring his literary talent, politics, nationalism, pride and his legacy.
Things will be feeling quite lively at this stage with the next round of poetry and songs!
Toast to the Lassies
A humourous highlight of the supper where women of the world are praised using quotes from the Bard – ‘To the Lassies!’
Even more entertainment!
More poetry, song and fun for guests to enjoy.
Reply to the Toast to the Lassies
This time it’s the women’s turn to respond to the toast with a witty retort.
Vote of thanks
Almost the end of the evening, the host thanks everyone for their part in creating an enjoyable evening.
Auld Lang Syne
Guests are invited to sing a rousing and hearfelt rendition of Auld Lang Syne, joining hands to draw the evening to a close.
Whether you’re attending a formal Burns’ Supper or getting together with friends or family to raise a glass to Scotland’s national poet, we hope you have a wonderful evening and if you’re hosting and looking for a drink with a Scottish twist, we have the perfect Burns’ Night selection below.
Easy D – a delicious, sweet cocktail with a gentle spritz using Caorunn, whisky, wine and almond syrup
Auld Alliance – gin (and jam!) with a little drop of brandy
Highland Smash – cloudy pressed apple juice brings the botanicals of Caorunn to life in this Scottish serve, finished off with a spoonful of Heather honey – delightfully Scottish!
Highland Blossom – a nod to a Negroni, but with whisky
Loch Fizz – lime juice, cloudy pressed apple juice, beer, Caorunn and a splash of Scotch!