Celebrating Burns Night in Scotland
Whether you’re Scottish or not, celebrating Burns Night makes the perfect end to an often long and dark January. Falling annually on the 25th, on what was his birthday, it’s an evening full of tradition in which the Scots honour the life and legacy of Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns.
Why do we celebrate it
The first Burns Night was held in 1801, 5 years after his death, by 9 men who gathered in Burns’ Cottage to celebrate his life and works. It was such a success that they decided to meet again the following year. Due to Burns’ popularity, which grew immensely after his death, it’s hardly surprising that this idea of meeting and celebrating annually became popular throughout the rest of Scotland. Even today Burns is still regarded as one of the most culturally significant Scottish figures which has helped to keep this tradition alive.
How we celebrate
As the guests arrive, they are welcomed in by a piper and are requested to remain standing until he finishes playing. A short thanks called ‘The Selkirk Grace’ is then recited before the meal is served. Traditionally the first course is a Scottish broth called Cock-a-leekie Soup followed by Haggis neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) which is the main attraction. The Haggis is led into the room by a piper after which the head of the table will dramatically recite ‘Address to a Haggis’ before slicing it open and serving it to his guests. The meal is then finished off with a serving of Cranachan, a traditional cream and fruit dessert, and all of this will be accompanied by a dram of whisky or Irn Bru for the kids.
Once the meal and festivities have ended, the night will be finished with a recital of one of Burns’ most famous poems: Auld Lang Syne.
While Burns Night does have its staple customs, there are numerous traditions that are upheld and vary from home to home. Many men, particularly in the Highlands, will wear a kilt for the evening and the ladies are also likely to incorporate tartan somewhere in their outfit. Some evenings may even feature a ceilidh while others choose to celebrate Burns by requesting that each guest recites a poem of their choosing.
However you choose to spend Burns Night, whether it’s at a grand banquet or simply with a few friends around the kitchen table, by truly immersing yourself in some Scottish culture you’re sure to have a night to remember. So take your Haggis, recite the poems and of course raise a glass to celebrate the life and works of one of Scotland’s greatest poets.