Be Honest, Do You Know What Burns Night Is?
Burns Night, held in honour of Scotland’s most famous poet Robert Burns, is celebrated at the end of January every year. The night is a way to celebrate the life of the 18th century bard and it falls on his birthday, (today!) January 25th.
The tradition started a few years after the poet’s death in 1796, when his friends commemorated his career on the date of his death (July 21) each year.
So began the Burns Supper, and more than two centuries later it is has become a nationwide event with recitals of the poet’s works and a haggis dinner.
How do you celebrate Burns Night? By wearing a kilt?
Whether or not Burns would have worn kilts is still disputed, with some arguing that as a Lowlander he would not have worn them, although he was a champion of the right to wear traditional dress.
The full ritual of the night involves whisky, haggis and poetry readings. Those who partake are piped in and then The Selkirk Grace – the prayer of thanks attributed to Burns – is said before dinner.
The prayer goes:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
A traditional Burns Supper starts with soup, often a Scottish broth. The haggis is then served with turnips and potatoes – known as neeps and tatties if you’re a true Scot. The haggis, typically carried on a silver salver, is also piped in by the diners with a standing slow clap.
It is the “Great chieftain o the puddin’-race” according to the Address to the haggis. During the Address (also written by Burns) the speaker draws a knife and at the line “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht”, cuts the dish open. Once all the fanfare is over, the guests toast the haggis and tuck in.
The meal is followed by the Immortal Memory toast, in which a guest gives a speech in honour of the great poet. Then a Toast to the Lassies, once a chance to thank the women cooking the meal, it is now the humorous highlight to the evening. A male diner offers an amusing but complimentary take on the role of women in general life, taking in quotes from Burns’s works and referring to women in the group.
Any man making the toast should tread with care, since it is followed by a reply from the women.
The rest of the night is filled with a vote of thanks and guests performing works by Burns, ending with the Auld lang syne – a Scottish song most commonly associated with the bard, though its true origin is unknown. The group stand and holds hands to sing it.
So there you have it, Burns Night. If that hasn’t got you curious about the taste of haggis then I’m not sure much else will raise intrigue within you. If you have enjoyed this brief History lesson, then you will also enjoy our History courses at The Sheffield College. Take a look for yourself!