Burns Night is a tradition celebrated all over the globe but originates in Scotland. Burns Night is an institution of Scottish life: a night to celebrate the life and works of the national Bard, Robbie Burns. Dinners can range quite wildly from small, gatherings of friends to large formal dinners filled with pomp and ceremony, but there are a few essential ingredients that they all need.
Here we look at how to throw a Burns Night celebration and keep the traditions alive.
The national instrument of Scotland, the bagpipes are usually played at the more formal occasions where a piper will play in the guests and continue to do so until the high table is ready to be seated when they have done so a round of applause should then follow. In a home or more informal gathering, some traditional music should do the job just fine but it really should have some bagpipes in it.
At a more egalitarian gathering - with no high table - the chair can simply bang on the table to draw attention to the start of the evening's proceedings.
2. Welcome and Grace
The Chairman's welcome is just where the head of the party or host welcomes everyone and begins proceedings for the evening's celebrations. This is followed by the Selkirk Grace, a traditional prayer, sometimes said in English but usually in Scots and it goes like this:
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.
Haggis is the traditional fare to be had at a Burns night dinner and is"sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach and boiled. As the dish is brought in, the piper will return to pipe in the arrival of the haggis.
Guests should stand and clap in time to the music until the haggis has arrived on the table when an honored speaker will then address the haggis with a traditional poem and they will have a knife at hand so, on cue (
His knife see Rustic-labour dight), they can cut the casing along its length, making sure to spill out some of the tasty gore within. The address is as follows:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the pudding-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm : Weel are ye wordy o'a grace As lang's my arm. The groaning trencher there ye fill, Your hurdies like a distant hill, Your pin wad help to mend a mill In time o'need, While thro' your pores the dews distil Like amber bead. His knife see rustic Labour dight, An' cut you up wi' ready sleight, Trenching your gushing entrails bright, Like ony ditch; And then, O what a glorious sight, Warm-reekin', rich! Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive: Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive, Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve Are bent like drums; Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive, Bethankit! hums. Is there that owre his French ragout Or olio that wad staw a sow, Or fricassee wad make her spew Wi' perfect sconner, Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view On sic a dinner? Poor devil! see him owre his trash, As feckless as wither'd rash, His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash; His nieve a nit; Thro' bloody flood or field to dash, O how unfit! But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread. Clap in his walie nieve a blade, He'll mak it whissle; An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned, Like taps o' thrissle. Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o' fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware That jaups in luggies; But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer Gie her a haggis!
Whiskey, and lots of it, is vital to a Burns Night but it has to be, of course, Scotch and everyone's glasses should be kept topped up at all times, this is especially vital when toasting the haggis, which comes right after the address to the haggis. Prompted by the speaker, the audience now joins in the toast to the haggis.
Raise a glass and shout:
The haggis! Then it's time to serve the main course with its traditional companions, neeps, and tatties (turnips and potatoes).
5. The Meal
We've already mentioned the haggis but there is a traditional dish for each course and the standard Burns Night meals is as follows (although alternatives are often available):
Traditional cock-a-leekie soup; a dish consisting of leeks and peppered chicken stock, often thickened with rice, or sometimes barely. The original recipe added prunes during cooking, and traditionalists still garnish with a julienne of prunes.
Haggis, neeps & tatties (
Haggis wi' bashit neeps an' champit tatties);
Clootie Dumpling (a pudding prepared in a linen cloth or cloot) or Typsy Laird (a Scottish sherry trifle);
Cheeseboard with bannocks (oatcakes) and tea/coffee.
There is first and second entertainment which come either side of 'The Immortal Memory' (more on that on the next page). First entertainment follows straight after the meal and is usually a singer or musician performing Burns songs but it could also be it could be a moving recital of a Burns poem.
Second entertainment is usually a poem or song to complement the earlier entertainment. Final entertainment then comes in between the toast to the lassies and the reply.
7. The Immortal Memory
Toasting the poet comes right after the meal and is given by the keynote speaker who will give a rousing oration of the man's literary genius, his politics, his highs and lows, his human frailty and - most importantly - his nationalism, this is, after all, a national celebration.
Although it should have serious intent, it should be full of sparkling wit and mirth and paint a colorful and positive picture of Scotland's national bard.
8. Toast To The Lassies and Reply
The toast to the lassies is a witty and rousing speech given by a male member of the party designed to praise the role of women in the world today. Ideally, it will use as many quotes from Burn's work as possible and will build to a positive note and end with the toast "To The Lassies!"
After the final entertainment, one of the women present will then get to give a speech in response to the 'Toast to The Lassies' in reply where they get to respond in kind. Once this has finished a vote of thanks is given to the host or chair.
9. Auld Lang Syne
Often sung across Britain at New Years celebrations, Aud Lang Syne is a song that is also sung at Burns Night celebrations where the company joins hands and sings as one, having made sure to brush up on those difficult later lines.
After this, a ceilidh (traditional dance) often breaks out to end the night.