Burns Night is the annual celebration of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, and it combines two things that Scots historically have always done superbly well; celebrations and whisky.
Known as the national poet of Scotland, the works of Robert Burns are revered worldwide as they prominently feature the Scots language and his timeless sense of humour which can be seen throughout many of his works. With Burns Night just around the corner us Scots are preparing to take part in the celebrations and all the haggis it entails.
The event was first observed back in 1801 when close friends of ‘Rabbie’ held an evening known as ‘the first Burns night supper’ in honour of their friend who had passed away 5 years earlier, and little did they know that over 200 years later we would still be commemorating his legacy on January 25.
If you are planning to celebrate Burns Night in 2023 then continue reading to discover 9 traditional Burns Night customs so you can mark the Scottish event authentically.
1. Piping in your guests
Depending on the size of a Burns Night celebration you may see guests welcomed by pipers playing. This is more associated with large-scale events so if you’re putting something smaller together then playing some traditional music through your TV works just as well.
Photo: via Wikimedia Commons
2. The Selkirk Grace
Once every guest has been welcomed to the celebration, and the entertainment planned for the evening has been announced, the host will then recite the ‘Selkirk Grace’. This is a short prayer traditionally spoken before a Burns Night Supper begins. The grace goes: “Some hae meat an canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit.”
3. Addressing the Haggis
Haggis is the Scottish dish which is traditionally served to guests on a silver platter. Usually a procession of people, including the cook, bring the haggis to the table as music plays and guests clap along to the tune. After the Haggis has been placed down the music settles and everyone sits down before someone recites Burns’ piece ‘Address to a Haggis’ which was written by the poet to capture his love of the dish. At the point the line ‘His knife see Rustic-labour dight’ is said by whoever is addressing the Haggis that person then slices it open.
Photo: Bruce MacRae via Flickr
4. A Traditional Burns Night Supper
A traditional Burns Night supper sees revellers eating, chatting and laughing together as music plays quietly in the background. A first course could be a Scotch broth, cock-a-leekie soup or Cullen skink. This is followed by the classic ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’ which is haggis served with a side of mashed potatoes and turnips drenched in whisky sauce. It is also traditional to end the feast with a Scottish dessert like a Cranachan which also benefits in flavour from a splash of whisky.
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