Marking the anniversary of poet and lyricist Robert Burns’ birth on 25 January, Burns Night is a celebration of Scotland’s national bard. Renowned for producing everything from traditional ballads and thought-provoking poetry through to romantic verse and humorous satires, many of Burns’ works are instantly recognisable.
Now the evening represents an opportunity for friends to gather, enjoy each other’s company, tuck into some haggis and celebrate Burns’ greatest achievements.
So who was Robert Burns?
Born in Alloway, in Ayrshire, on 25 January 1759, Burns created a diverse catalogue of poetry and songs during his short 37-year life that are still enjoyed to this day.
Having penned his first poem at 15, much of his writing focused on issues affecting the poorer classes and on the need for greater social equality. Hundreds of lines in his works were dedicated to women and his personal life, and Burns fathered 12 children, nine to his wife Jean Armour.
The first Burns supper took place on the anniversary of Burns’ death in 1801, when nine of his closest friends got together to celebrate his life. They met at Burns Cottage in Alloway, tucked into some tasty haggis, performed many of his best works and honoured the great bard with a speech, now known as the Immortal Memory.
Such was the success of the evening that the friends decided to hold it again, although they switched dates to Burns’ birthday – starting the tradition that is enjoyed to this day
What is included in a Burns Night Supper?
Once everyone has gathered for the supper – often in their finest traditional Scottish dress – the host will say a few words of welcome, before everyone sits ahead of the recital of the Selkirk Grace.
Popular starters include cock-a-leekie and scotch broth, before the haggis is piped into the room and the Address to the Haggis performed. Once the haggis is toasted by all in the room, the main meal is served. Dessert follows, and this is often Cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert of fresh seasonal raspberries and cream, coupled with Scottish oats and whisky.
After the meal, the main tribute speech to Burns – the Immortal Memory – is sandwiched between two Burns recitals. A Toast to the Lassies follows, then a Reply to the Toast of the Lassies, before a final Burns recital.
Proceedings are rounded off with a vote of thanks from the host, before all guests stand to sing Auld Lang Syne, crossing their arms and joining hands at the line: ‘And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!’
Visit Scotland has a detailed Burns Night Guide if you want to find out more about the traditions, or even host your own Burns Night Supper.
Burns Night events across Britain
The Big Burns Supper Festival, Dumfries and Galloway
Renowned as the world’s biggest Burns Night celebration, the Big Burns Supper Festival runs for 11 days at an eclectic mix of venues across Dumfries, including bars, museums and art galleries. Highlights include performances from a host of international artists, and Le Haggis, a five-star international Cabaret show. Ellisland Farm, the house built by Burns in 1788, will also host the World Haggis Throwing Championships on 3 February.
Burns & Beyond, Edinburgh
New for 2019, Burns & Beyond promises to celebrate Scottish culture from Burns until the present day at venues across Edinburgh between 22-27 January. As part of the celebration, St Giles Cathedral will host an installation known as the Museum of the Moon, a touring artwork from UK artist Luke Jerram, while a new Culture Trail experience will provide a unique snapshot into contemporary Scottish culture.
Burns 19, Ayrshire
Mark Burns Night in style with a special programme of events around Burns Cottage at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and nearby landmarks including Alloway 1759 throughout January. Experience the world’s first Burns Supper drive thru alongside live music and take in Burns 19 to mark the bards 260th birthday, a sparkling set of special illuminations that bring all of the landmarks associated with Burns to life.
Burns Night at Fortnum & Mason, London
Renowned department store Fortnum & Mason is celebrating the Scottish bard with a traditional evening at its Gallery restaurant. Guests can tuck into four courses of delightful Scottish delicacies, alongside an array of accompanying wines and whiskies, while enjoying an abundance of traditional entertainment.
Holborn Dining Room, London
You can also celebrate Burns Night in the English capital with a delectable three-course feast featuring the finest traditional Scottish dishes at The Glenlivet Glade, a beautiful winter terrace at the Holborn Dining Room. Executive chef Calum Franklin will serve up an exclusive supper, with ingredients paired with an array of whiskeys from The Glenlivet’s extensive collection.