A Burns night and the Burns poem is a national institution and something I became accustomed to during my time at university in St. Andrews, Scotland.
It’s something that is celebrated with great flair and affection in Scotland and more recently “south of the border” in the rest of the UK and the world! It’s one day in the year when you can host a truly beautiful dinner party, drink lots of fine wines, scotch whiskey and enjoy the beautiful poetry that Burns shared with the world. 🏴
Burns Night: The poem
Might you know Burns best from your celebratory singing on New Years Day… any guesses? Well, it’s “Auld Lang Syne” which he wrote over 250 years ago and is arguably one of his most loved and world-renowned poems!
Burns Night: How Did It Start?
When Burns passed away in 1796, his friends decided to hold a memorial dinner, where each and every person recited his beautiful poems, ate as much ” haggis, neeps and tatties” as they wanted and drank until a stupor of tomfoolery ensued.
Now, every year people from all over the world join in suppers to commemorate his life and works on the late poet’s birthday, January 25th.
Burns Night: How Can I celebrate?
One lovely way to celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns is by hosting your very own “Burns Supper”. Whether you are in Scotland or anywhere else in the world – why not experience a truly Scottish tradition and celebrate the beautiful poems Burns created!
Burns Night: How to prepare
1.) Grab yourself a Burns poem book. These are relatively inexpensive and can be picked up in most local bookshops. I managed to find mine at a local thrift store for a very small amount – something like 50p. Personally, I prefer a physical book for this supper, but if you cant manage to find a book, head online and save a few of your favourite poems to recite.
2.) Grab a group of your friends and relatives – preferably ones that will not judge you too heavily upon drinking too much Scotch whiskey or wine! 🙂 It’s also beneficial if you know someone that can play the bagpipes.
If not, just get some of their melodies from the likes of Youtube or on music streaming sites.
3.) Share the book/link with your friends that you have invited. Ask them all to Choose 2-3 poems that resonate with them.
4.) Prepare some food. The tradition of a Burns Night Supper would not be complete without some delicious food. the tradition of eating, boiled and mashed, “neeps & tatties” (potatoes and turnips) with some Haggis that still holds strong in Scotland.
It can be quite hard to source Haggis outside of Scotland, so if you struggle just use some minced beef/lamb and mix thoroughly with garlic, onions, thyme and oats. wrap in a filo pastry to mimic the lining of the “Haggis sack”. Here is a perfect example of this recipe.
5.) While you keep the wines, ports and single malt whiskies flowing, why not recite some of the poems you have chosen? If you have cooked a Haggis, the obligatory “address to a Haggis” speech will be essential before attempting to eat anything! Some of the wording is hard to pronounce (well, I find it hard) – but that’s part of the fun! Especially when you have had a few glasses of whiskey! 😉
Burns poem: 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 worthy o’ 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,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
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,
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
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
Have a great night!