The Burns Supper

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Traditional Burns Night fare; haggis, neeps and tatties. And a wee dram to wash it down.

Traditional Burns Night fare; haggis, neeps and tatties. And a wee dram to wash it down.


On the 25th January every year Scottish people feel their heart strings pulled back to the motherland in celebration of the life and works of Robert Burns. The Burn’s Supper is a tradition in Scotland that dates back to 1802 in Ayrshire (where Robert Burns was from), where groups of friends and acquaintances meet to eat drink and be merry.

Although there is a defined structure to the way a “Burns Supper” is to be carried out, the whole purpose of the night is to feast in Scottish culture. From the start of the night there is the “Selkirk Grace” although said in English, to the untrained ear it can sound almost Germanic. Following on from this is the Haggis. (a tradition Scottish dish) This Bag is piped into the room and the “Toast to the Haggis” is said. When done correctly this is the defining moment of a traditional “Burns Supper.” This is commonly followed by a small “nip” of whiskey. At this point the haggis is served to the guests, normally accompanied by neeps, and tatties (mashed turnip, and mashed potato to those unaccustomed to the Scottish tongue).

It is fair to say that following on through the night there are a great number of further toasts, be it either to the monarch, to the ladies of the room, to the host and obviously to the great man himself. All of these toasts are accompanied once again by a “nip” of whiskey. It is because of this that in my experience a true “Burns Supper” is always filled with laughter and merriment. Everybody is encouraged to have a go at reciting some of Burns poetry (a difficult task at the best of times, harder even still after several “nips”), and to just laugh and accept the fact that mistakes will happen. Take for example the Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

If you would be able to say this sober, you will certainly struggle half cut, as many a people that have fallen victim to the great words of Burns will testify. It would be fair to say that a true “Burns Supper” is generally a very drunken affair. However, this is not the true purpose of the night. The true purpose of the night is to enjoy the company of good friends and acquaintances, while also enjoying good food (which I will happily say Haggis is), and the occasional good “nip” of whiskey.

Note by Cathrene I was collating a series of Burns Night Events for the CD-Traveller events list, and thought it would be a good idea to write something about the night as well, just so that the Non-Scots amongst us know what it is all about. So my thanks to Daniel Campbell for this article.

I have only ever attended two, and both of these were in Hamburg, Germany (and admittedly centred around the tasking of Whiskey!) so I did not feel it was the best representation of a typical evening, especially as I ended up giving the Toast to the Laddies on one occasion! I would therefore like to thank Danny for his contribution to this week’s CD-Traveller, and hope that it inspires some of you to attend the evening.

There are a handful of probably 1000’s of events in the UK listed in our events list. However, I am reassured by Danny, that a simple Google search of local Robert Burns Societies would glean “local”, accurately executed evenings in even the smallest villages in Scotland.

PS: I agree, haggis IS delicious! Do NOT be off put by the description – and they also make some tasty vegetarian versions which mean that ANYONE can join in.

More information on Burns Night, and a detailed description of proceedings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burns_supper
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum: http://www.burnsmuseum.org.uk/

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