Burns Night

How to Host a Burns Night Supper

Scots worldwide celebrate the birth of the Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns, on January 25th. These occasions can be extremely formal or very casual. All Burns Night Suppers include certain traditions. There must be a haggis, whiskey, and a bagpiper.

Burns Night is gaining popularity in Texas, as many expats  and children of Scotland are living here. Now grab your favorite salsa to pair with that haggis. No! Nonononono! Do grab your favorite whiskey to pair with that haggis. Boots and a kilt? To each your own. No matter how you choose to celebrate the Bard’s birthday, make sure you have the best music available by hiring a bagpiper. Texas is chock full of pipers, some belonging to the World Renowned St. Thomas Alumni Pipe Band, like Richard Kean, a Scottish and Canadian expat himself.

How do you conduct a proper Burns Night Supper? 

You follow these traditions:

  • The guests are piped in
  • The Chairman (or host) welcomes the guests
  • The Selkirk Grace is read or recited
  • The Haggis is piped in
  • There is an Address to the Haggis
  • The Haggis is toasted
  • The meal is eaten
  • Drinks all around
  • The First Entertainment
  • The Immortal Memory
  • The Second Entertainment
  • The Toast to the Lassies
  • The Final Entertainment
  • The Reply to the Lassies
  • The Vote of Thanks
  • Singing of “Auld Lang Syne”
  • Your Uber lift shows up

Your guests have been milling around the house or hall for sometime now. They are talking, drinking a bit of wine and they are hungry! How do we let them know it’s time to start the Burns Night Festivities? We call in the piper! Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, that Piper will lead your party to their seats.

Now that everyone is seated, the “Chairman” or “Chairwoman” will welcome the guests to this hallowed occasion. Hallowed? Robert Burns? Right. You have a bagpiper, food and whiskey, this isn’t church, but there will be some more somber moments during the night that are traditionally a bit more decorous.

The Selkirk Grace is then recited. It is an old Scottish grace attributed to Robert Burns, but it is older than that. It was known as the Galloway Grace or the Covenanter’s Grace. Burns recited this grace at the home of the Earl of Selkirk, and he recited it in Scots.

It reads:

Some Folk hae meat that canna eat,
And some can eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
So let the Lord be Thanket!

So much for formality!

The long awaited moment is nigh! The haggis that everyone has dreamed of is to now be piped in. Some Texans only get haggis once a year and this is it! The piper leads the chef who is holding a platter containing a beautiful sheep’s stomach wrapped around spiced minced meats and oats. Okay, the days of sheep stomach containing the haggis are pretty much over but we’re romanticizing here and we want to believe it’s a proper haggis, don’t we? The piper leads the chef around the room so that all can inhale the glorious aroma of the haggis before it is set before the Chairperson.

The time has come for an actual Burns poem. What better poem to begin with than “Address to a Haggis”? The man loved his haggis to be sure.

Read it here: http://www.robertburns.org/works/147.shtm

The “Great Chieftain o’ the pudding-race” is aggressively stabbed by the addressor and cuts the casing open. Mmmmmm!

The Toast to the Haggis. Everyone raises their glass and says “The Haggis!”

The Meal for a Burns Night Supper includes almost every dish with a funny sounding name that most Americans are not accustomed to. Don’t let this sway you! The Burns Night Meal is a masterpiece of Scottish Culinary Art. First up is the Cock-a-leekie soup. It’s basically chicken soup with leeks. Simple enough, but very tasty. Then comes the main course. The haggis with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes). If you are lucky you may be at a party that serves a nice whiskey sauce to go with this course. The sweet afterward is a Clootie Dumpling or a Tipsy Laird. Your New Years Resolution is now defeated, but hey, you lasted 25 days! Win!

The Drinks are now served. Hopefully a selection of fine peat-y whiskeys will be available for tasting. For those not inclined to imbibe the water of life, a selection of wines will suffice.

The First Entertainment is usually a musician or singer performing songs by Robert Burns. You already have a piper, who needs “musicians”? Have your piper play some Burns tunes!

The Immortal Memory is a speech given to, well, the immortal memory of Robert Burns. Tales of his life and loves are recounted by your wittiest friend who is hopefully half-comedian and half-pastor, as this speech is somber and amusing at its best. The ending is the toast: “To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.” Don’t be shy, take another drink of whiskey!

The Second Entertainment is typically the recitation of a poem by Burns. There are hundreds to choose from. You can choose Richard’s favorite, “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”. Or his wife’s favorite, “ Nine Inch Will Please a Lady”. Do be careful when conducting a Google Search for that one! Burns poetry could be ribald, but he is also remembered for his poems that were reminiscent of a pastoral Scotland and the love of his nation.

The Toast to the Lassies is a humorous toast to all women everywhere and to their accomplishments. Burns did love the ladies. A snippet of one of his poems should be included in this toast; all the gentlemen raise their glasses (which by now should have been liberally refilled) and toast the lassies.

The Final Entertainment. What? You have a piper on hand? The piper can play more tunes. Things are getting a bit more relaxed now. Why not have the piper play some requests?

The piper now has the room ready to hear the “Reply to the Toast to the Lassies”. Everyone is jolly. The lady chosen for this reply has been preparing for this since “The Toast to the Lassies”. It is time for some humorous “revenge” for the prior toast to her sex and it’s all in good fun.

The Chairperson will get to their feet and give the “Vote of Thanks” to the guests. It’s been a wonderful evening filled with good food, good company and even better whiskey. No one wants to leave but once it’s done, it’s done for the year…time to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.

Call that cab or Uber driver and hang out for a few more minutes to remember Robert Burns, his great works, and all that he did for Scotland and her posterity.