Burns night traditions, including haggis and hard drinking will be a stern test for those who have committed to ‘Dry January’. This applies especially if you are Scottish! In this article, we look at Burns night traditions, and the merriment involved in this most famous of Scottish celebrations. Plus, we include a few facts about the man Robert Burns himself.
What is Burns night?
It is a celebration of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. Each year it falls on his birthday, which is the 25th January. It is thought to have been first observed by the Burns Club of Greenock in 1802, some six years after the death of Burns. This group of friends decided that Burns’ life and work should be celebrated. To this day, the day is celebrated throughout the world.
How do people celebrate?
The centrepiece of any traditional Burns night is most definitely the Burns night supper. Traditionally, there is a ‘running order’ for the evening, which involves three key elements. These include Scotch whisky, haggis and readings of Robert Burns’ poetry.
What is actually in a haggis?
While haggis may not be to everyone’s taste, it forms a crucial part of the traditional Burns night supper. It contains a crumbly mixture of oats, spices and sheep’s offal. The traditional way to cook it is in a sheep’s stomach. It is typically served with an old Scottish favourite ‘neeps and tatties’, which are mashed turnips or swedes and potatoes.
How does the meal start and progress?
Before Burns’ night guests can tuck in to the supper, it is traditional to read Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’. Typically, the evening becomes increasingly raucous as the whisky flows, building up to the ‘address to the lassies’ and ‘reply to the laddies’. The night includes the singing of songs and Scottish dancing to complete a typically raucous evening.
Who was Robert Burns?
Robert Burns is Scotland’s best-known poet. He was born to humble beginnings in the village of Alloway near Ayr, to parents who were tenant farmers. Known as the Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet, he is internationally celebrated as a pioneer in the Romantic Movement in poetry. Frequently he wrote in Scottish or English dialect and one of his most famous works is ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
His first collection of poems was published in 1876, and it made him famous across Scotland. This is even more impressive when considering he was only 27.
What kind of character was he?
A notorious womaniser by most accounts! For example, the extraordinarily positive reception to his published works, resulted in him abandoning an ambitious plan. He had intended to flee to the West Indies with his lover, leaving his pregnant fiancée (Jean Armour) in Scotland! Instead, he left for Edinburgh, where he became associated with wealthy and influential socialites. He enjoyed lavish spending. Furthermore, during his time in Edinburgh, he fathered a further illegitimate child (of a total of three during his life).
Did he settle down?
Robert Burns did eventually return to Jean, and in fact had a further nine children with her. He settled into life in Dumfriesshire, starting work in customs and excise. In this way, he continued to write prodigiously and in fact became one of Scotland’s foremost lyrical poets. However, his life of debauchery took its toll, and he died in 1796 aged just 37. A rheumatic heart condition is said to be a possible cause of death.
Will you be celebrating?
Do you and your family celebrate Burns night? Is there a way in which you incorporate your own traditions? Please get in touch and let us know, because we’d love to hear! And of course, if you would like to enjoy a wee dram, what better way to enjoy it than from one our gorgeous whisky tumblers. They are available in three styles, Mayfair, Verona and Blenheim. If you are researching your Scottish ancestry, then let us help. We have several blog posts that might help you, with useful links.