Burns Night

Burns Night is annually celebrated in Scotland on or around January 25. It commemorates the life of the bard (poet) Robert Burns, who was born on January 25, 1759. The day also celebrates Burns’ contribution to Scottish culture. His best-known work is Auld Lang Syne.

What day of the year combines haggis, whisky and poetry with lots of fun and laughter? Burns Night of course!

What’s Burns night?

Burns Night marks the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth on 25 January each year.

What’s Burns Supper?

Held throughout the world on Burns Night (or on an evening close to it) a traditional Burns supper is an evening event that celebrates Robert Burns’ life and work.

What do people do?

Many organisations hold a Burns Night. These are usually informal, only for men, only for women, or for both genders. Formal events include toasts and readings of pieces written by Robert Burns. Ceremonies during a Burns Night supper vary according to the group organising the event and the location.

Everyone enjoys a hearty feast (which includes haggis, neeps and tatties, rounded off with drams of whisky), some of Burns’ poems and songs are recited and tributes are made to the great Bard.

 

Each Burns supper is individual, but the running order normally goes something like this:

  • To start – everyone gathers, the host says a few words, everyone sits and the Selkirk Grace is said.
  • The meal – the starter is served, the haggis is piped in, the host performs Address to a Haggis, everyone toasts the haggis and the main meal is served, followed by dessert.
  • After the meal – the first Burns recital is performed, the Immortal Memory (the main tribute speech to Burns) is given, the second Burns recital is performed, then there’s a Toast to the Lassies, followed by a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, before the final Burns recital is performed.
  • To end the night – the host gives a vote of thanks, everyone stands and sings Auld Lang Syne, crossing their arms and joining hands at the line ‘And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!’.

Public Life

Burns Night is an observance but it is not a bank holiday in the United Kingdom.

Background

Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland, on January 25, 1759. He died in Dumfries, Scotland, on July 21, 1796. He was a bard (poet) and wrote many poems, lyrics and other pieces that addressed political and civil issues.

Perhaps his best-known work is “Auld Lang Syne”, which is sung at New Year’s Eve celebrations in Scotland, parts of the United Kingdom, and other places around the world. Burns is one of Scotland’s important cultural icons and is well known among Scottish expats or descendants around the world. He is also known as: “Rabbie Burns”; the “Bard of Ayrshire”; “Scotland’s favourite son”; and in Scotland “The Bard”.

Robert Burns acquaintances held the first Burns supper on July 21, the anniversary of his death, in Ayrshire, Scotland, in the late 1700s. The date was later changed to January 25, which marks his birthday. Burns suppers are now held by people and organizations with Scottish origins worldwide, particularly in Australia, Canada, England, and the United States.

Symbols

The Scottish flag is often displayed at Burns Night celebrations. It is known as the Saltire and consists of a rectangular blue background with thick white bars on the diagonals. The diagonals form a cross that represents Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.

At Burns Night events, many men wear kilts and women may wear shawls, skirts or dresses made from their family tartan.

Remember – if you hold your own, you can follow as much or as little of this running order as you like. You could even make your own additions – hold a quiz, play an epic Scottish Spotify playlist, add a ceilidh, include a treasure hunt – we don’t think Robert Burns would mind at all, as long as you’re having fun!