Burns Night

Robert (or Rabbie) Burns is generally accepted to be Scotland’s finest poet. He was born in the village of Alloway on 25 January 1759 and died on 21 July 1796.

His best known works include the lyrics to ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘ A Red, Red Rose’, ‘A Man’s A Man for A’ That’, ‘To a Louse’, ‘To a Mouse’, ‘The Battle of Sherramuir’ and ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. .

In 1801 a group of Burns’ friends got together on or about his birthday (bizarrely to commemorate the 5th anniversary of his death) with a special supper.

The tradition of ‘Burns Night’ on or around January 25th continues to this day amongst Scots – particularly expat Scots.

The main features of a ‘Burns Night’ supper are Scotch Whisky and Haggis, served with Turnips and Potatoes – or as they’re known colloquially ‘Neeps and Tatties’.

Traditionally a ‘Burns Night’ supper will start with the ‘Selkirk Grace’ – a traditional Scottish grace that Burns is said to have modified :


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.

The main course of the meal will comprise the aforementioned Haggis, usually ‘piped in’ – that is, brought in to the room ceremonially, led by a piper playing the bagpipes. Once the haggis has circled the room, it is ‘addressed’ with some ceremony and the words to Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’:

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’ race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of 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 slight, (it is at this point that the Haggis is sliced open)
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie 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;
The 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 mak 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 a 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 make 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!

A toast to the Haggis is then drunk, with Scotch Whisky.

There are plenty of translations of the address around the Internet, but the original lowland Scottish, delivered with gusto is quite an impressive spectacle.

The Haggis is then served with the aforementioned Turnips and Potatoes, and plenty of Scotch Whisky.

Robert Burns was a well known Freemason, and many Masonic lodges incorporate a Burns Night supper into their calendars.