Burns night – 25th January
A selection of Burns night menu and party ideas to help the special evening go well.
Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous and celebrated poet, was born on 25th January 1759. That night, or a night near it, is now the time used to celebrate his life and work. There is a well-established ritual that makes Burns night one of the most enjoyable of formal dinners.
Burns Night menu ideas
The centrepiece of the dinner is haggis, the famous Scottish dish often portrayed as a living beast, but in fact an economical concoction made from oatmeal and parts of the sheep not usually served in other ways, all bound up in a sheep’s gut. Macsween’s is the best-known manufacturer.
- Cullen skink
- Scottish smoked salmon
- Cock-a-leekie soup
- Scotch broth
- Haggis with neeps (known in the south of England as swede) and tatties (potatoes)
- Tipsy Laird (sherry trifle)
- Atholl Brose pudding (whipped cream flavoured with whisky and honey and containing lightly toasted oatmeal)
- Cranachan (a very similar whisky, honey and oatmeal cream served with raspberries)
- Cheese with oatcakes
- Whisky aperitifs such as Atholl Brose (if not being served for dessert)
- Claret with the meal (there is a strong historical relationship between Scotland and France),
- Scottish ale
- Single malt whisky
The meal should be preceded by the Selkirk Grace, composed by Rabbie Burns:
Some hae meat and canna eat it.
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Before the haggis is served, it is traditionally brought into the room with all the pomp surrounding the arrival of the most important guest.
On the signal given by the President, the procession is led in by a piper playing the Scottish bagpipes (with the guests clapping to the music), followed by the chef carrying in the steaming hot haggis, with the Orator walking behind.
The haggis is placed with flourish and decorum on a table in full view of the guests, and the Orator recites the Address to the Haggis, ceremonially cutting into the haggis during the appropriate verse.
At the end of the recital, the Orator raises the haggis to the assembled guests, and a toast to the haggis is made.
The haggis is carried in a procession led by the piper back to the kitchen for serving with further applause from the guests.
The end of the meal is marked with speeches and toasts to The Immortal Memory (of Robert Burns):
- a Toast to the Lasses
- and a response from one of the lasses
Robert Burns was notoriously fond of the lasses, and the toast to the lasses and the response usually contain light-hearted banter about the foibles of men and women and their fondness, despite this, for the opposite sex.
The President introduces each of the speakers.
Entertainments may either precede the speeches or follow them, or both.
Burns songs can be sung as an interlude, and dancing can be arranged after the meal (for those still able to stand).
The evening normally concludes with the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
Address to a haggis
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm :
Weel are ye wordy 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 sleight,*
(* This is normally the point at which the haggis is cut open.)
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony 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;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make 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 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 mak 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!
If you are organising a Burns supper at home you will be fortunate if you are able to arrange all of the elements, but you could substitute recorded music for the piper, and you may be able to find recorded recitals of Robert Burns’ Address to the Haggis.
The toast to the lasses and the response are better if they are tailored to your own audience.
You can find examples on the web which might act as inspiration and if you are apprehensive about making a speech, you will find Presentation Magazine of assistance.
Too late for Burns night?
Robert Burns died on 21 July 1796, so if you are too late to hold a Burns night supper in January or February, why not celebrate instead the anniversary of Rabbie Burns’ death?
Your Burns Night party
How did your party go? Do you have any other menu ideas? Please leave your feedback in the ideas box below.