A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns, the author of many Scots poems. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet's birthday, 25th January, more commonly known as Burns Night.
The first supper was held in memoriam at Burns Cottage by Burns' friends, on 29th January 1802, since discovering his actual birthday was on the 25th January it was moved to that date and has been a regular occurrence ever since. The original Burns Club was founded in Greenock in 1801 by merchants who were born in Ayrshire, and had known Burns. Burns Suppers typically include haggis (a traditional Scottish dish celebrated by Burns in Address to a Haggis), Scotch whisky and reciting of Burns' poetry.
Standard order of a formal Burns Supper:
- Piping in guests: A piper generally greets the guests, who gather and mix as at any party.
A traditional Scottish bag pipe
- Selkirk Grace: All the guests are seated and grace is said, usually using the Selkirk Grace, a well-known thanksgiving said before meals that uses the Scots language. Attributed to Burns, because Burns was said to have delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk:
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.
- Soup Course: The supper starts with the soup course. Normally, a Scottish soup, such as Scotch broth, potato soup, cullen skink, or cock-a-leekie, is served.
- Haggis: “Piping” in the haggis is where everyone stands as the haggis is brought in. It is usually brought in by the cook on a large dish, generally while a piper plays the bagpipe and leads the way to the host's table, where the haggis is laid down. The host then recites the Address to a Haggis.
Haggis with ‘tatties’ and ‘neeps’ and Scotch whisky
- Main course: At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be proposed to the haggis, and the company will sit down to the meal. The haggis is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed swede (neeps).
- Other courses: A dessert course, cheese courses, coffee, etc., may also be part of the meal. The courses normally use traditional Scottish recipes. For instance, dessert may be cranachan or tipsy laird (whisky trifle), followed by oatcakes and cheese, all washed down with the uisge beatha, (Scotch whisky).
- Closing: Finally, the host will call on one of the guests to give the vote of thanks. Then, everybody stands to join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne to bring the evening to a close.
Are you planning on having a Burns Night supper? We’d love to hear about it!