January may be a particularly gloomy month for many but not for Scots around the world! Every year, on the 25th of January, Scots and lovers of Scotland around the world will get together to celebrate one of the most iconic figures in history, Robert Burns. As we get ready for the annual Burns Night festivities in tribute to the National Poet of Scotland, we wanted to celebrate Robert Burns and look into the traditions that make Burns Night so uniquely Scottish!
Life and Works of Robert Burns
Born on the 25th of January 1759 in Alloway in Ayrshire, Robert Burns died just 37 years later. However, in those 37 years, Robert Burns produced one of the finest bodies of work imaginable. What many may not know is that although Burns became one of the most famous writers there has ever been, it could have all been so different had his first collection of poems not been a success. Struggling financially, Burns had plans to emigrate to the Caribbean island of Jamaica. However, his plans all changed when “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” was a huge success and completely sold out in its first month of release. Burns changed Jamaica for Edinburgh and the rest was history! Burns would go on to write iconic works such as ‘Tam O’Shanter’, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, ‘A Red, Red Rose’, and his influence is still felt today. Burns’ works were so influential that they even inspired some of the greatest novels ever written. From Burns’ song ‘Comin Thro The Rye’ inspiring J.D Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” to a line in his poem ‘To A Mouse’ inspiring the title of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel “Of Mice and Men”, Burns’ work is as inspirational now as it ever was.
Burns Night Traditions
A centuries-old event, it’s thought the first Burns Supper was held all the way back in July 1801. A small group of Burns’ close friends decided to meet at Burns Cottage in Alloway on the 5th anniversary of his death to remember their friend. They performed his work, made speeches in his honour and, of course, enjoyed a Haggis dinner. Following the success of this first Supper, the event was subsequently moved to Burns’ birthday on the 25th of January and it has been this way ever since!
If you’re attending a Burns Night event this year, or if you are just hosting your own personal Burns Supper on the 25th, there are many traditions to follow during your night’s celebrations.
Piping in the Guests
Traditionally, a Burns Supper will begin with the piping in of the guests.
The Selkirk Grace
Once the guests are seated, the Selkirk Grace is then said. A small prayer written by Burns after being asked to say grace by the Earl of Selkirk.
“Some Folk hae meat that canna eat,
And some can eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
So let the Lord be Thanket!”
Piping in the Haggis
It’s then time for the star attraction of the dinner to be piped in as all guests stand to welcome the haggis.
To a Haggis
Before dinner can begin, a nominated speaker will recite Burns’ famous Address To A Haggis, using his knife to cut the haggis on cue with the Address. As the address finishes, all guests will raise a glass to “The Haggis”!
A Burns Supper traditionally contains 3 courses, all celebrating Scotland’s finest food and drink. Guests will start with the traditional Scottish soup Cock-A-Leekie which will be followed by the main course of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties before a traditional Scottish dessert such as Cranachan(whipped cream, raspberries, honey and whisky) or Clootie Dumpling (a dried fruit cake served with custard). The Burns Supper is also, obviously, served with a dram of one of Scotland’s finest whiskies!
The Immortal Memory
Inspired by that very first Burns Supper, dinner is followed by a speech that details the life and works of Robert Burns. The speech should take guests on a journey of Robert Burns, including the highs and lows of his life as well as celebrating Burns’ pride in his country.
Auld Lang Syne
Following the humorous “Toast to the Lassies” and “The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies”, the Burns Supper will officially conclude with all guests joining hands and singing one of Burns’ most famous pieces of work, “Auld Lang Syne”! If you’re attending a special Burns Night event, a traditional Scottish Ceilidh may follow to conclude the evening’s entertainment.
Voted The Greatest Ever Scot in 2009, Burns has left an indelible legacy that is still seen around the world. From Burns Clubs dedicated to celebrating the life and works of Robert Burns to his influence on popular culture, Burns is rightly celebrated all over the world.
Such is Burns’ popularity that he has the third most statues for a non-religious figure, only behind Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus. Whether you’re in Scotland, New Zealand or the United States, amongst many others, you’ll be able to find a Burns statue! At MacGregor and MacDuff, we even appear to be following Burns around the world! There’s a Burns statue in George Square in Glasgow, Central Park in New York, in the Victoria Embankment Gardens in London and, of course, there are several Burns statues and monuments in Burns’ home district of Ayrshire! If only there was a Robert Burns statue in Manchester!
Robert Burns was still making history as recently as 2009 when he became the first person to ever be featured on a Coca Cola bottle in celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth.
If you’re attending a Burns Supper this year to celebrate Scotland’s favourite son, make sure you look the part on the night by hiring your kilt from MacGregor and MacDuff! We’ll have hires available right up until the last minute so pop into one of our stores to arrange your Burns Supper outfit, perfect for the post-dinner Ceilidh!