Haggis, Whisky, and Wit: Celebrating Robert Burns Today


Imagine a night in Scotland where the humble haggis takes centre stage, whisky flows like poetry, and verses fill the air. This isn't just any night; it's a Burns Supper, a tribute to Scotland's most beloved bard, Robert Burns. But who was this man who inspired such a unique and enduring tradition?

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?"


Who Was Robert Burns?

Robert Burns, often fondly referred to as Rabbie Burns, was more than just a poet; he was a cultural icon, a lover, a rebel, and a man of the people. Born on January 25, 1759, in a simple farmer's cottage in Alloway, he was the eldest of seven children. His life was a tapestry of both hardship and passion, woven with the threads of relentless poverty and rich romantic escapades.

Burns' early life on a farm instilled in him a deep connection with nature and the common folk, themes that would later resonate powerfully in his poetry. Despite their struggles, his father ensured he received a good education, fostering a love of reading and writing that would become the cornerstone of his legacy.

One of the most delightful tales about Burns involves his romantic escapades. He was known to be quite the charmer, and his love life was as varied and passionate as his poetry. His affairs of the heart inspired some of his most famous works. For instance, the timeless "A Red, Red Rose" was reportedly written for one of his great loves, signifying the depth of his romanticism.

The Burns Supper: A Night of Mirth and Homage

Fast forward to today, and Burns' legacy is celebrated annually with the Burns Supper, an event marked by tradition, fun, and a fair bit of whisky. It's a night where Scots and Burns enthusiasts worldwide gather to honour the man who became the voice of Scotland.

The supper is a lively affair, beginning with the grand entrance of the haggis, carried in on a silver platter to the sound of bagpipes. It's a sight to behold and one that Burns himself would have appreciated, given his famous "Address to a Haggis," where he humorously exalts the Scottish dish.

As the evening unfolds, guests are treated to a feast of traditional Scottish fare – think haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes), all washed down with hearty drams of Scotch whisky. It's a meal that warms the heart and readies the spirit for the night's revelries.

The supper is interspersed with readings of Burns' works, from the reflective "To a Mouse" to the uproarious "Tam o' Shanter." Each poem or song offers a glimpse into Burns' soul – his empathy, humour, and unabashed love for life.

Then come the toasts – the 'Toast to the Lassies' and the 'Reply to the Laddies.' These are often humorous and light-hearted, reflecting Burns' own wit and appreciation for the finer (and funnier) aspects of the battle of the sexes.

"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!"

What Happens at a Burns Night Event?
  •  The Address to the Haggis – This is the main event of the evening, where the haggis is brought into the room and is traditionally piped in by a bagpiper, then a person, usually the host of the event, will give an address to the haggis, reciting Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis.
  • The Selkirk Grace – This is a short prayer or grace that is said before the meal; it is attributed to Robert Burns but not written by him.
  • The Meal – A traditional Burns Night meal typically includes haggis (a Scottish dish made from sheep’s offal), neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes), and clapshot (a mixture of mashed potatoes and turnips), as well as a variety of other Scottish dishes such as Cullen Skink (a creamy fish soup).
  • The Toast to the Immortal Memory – This is a formal toast that is usually given by the host of the evening; it is a tribute to the life and works of Robert Burns.
  • Recitation of Burns’ Poetry and Singing His Songs – A traditional Burns Night celebration often includes recitation of some of Burns’ most famous poems, such as Auld Lang Syne and My Heart’s in the Highlands and singing of Burns’ songs.
  • Whisky Tasting – A traditional Burns Night celebration typically includes a whisky tasting, where the guests can sample different types of Scottish whisky and learn about the history and production of the spirit.
  • Dancing – Some Burns Night celebrations include dancing to traditional Scottish music, as well as Ceilidh dancing, a type of social folk dancing from Scotland.
  • The Toast to the Lassies – A good-natured and humorous speech, usually given by a male, toasting the women present, it can be seen as a bit controversial and not included in all the celebrations.

Keep in mind that not all the events must be included in all the Burns Night celebrations and many variations exist. However, these are some of the traditional events that are commonly included in a Burns Night celebration.


Burns in the Modern World

Even centuries after his death, Burns' influence remains palpable. His words have travelled across oceans and through time, inspiring not just individuals but entire movements. Every New Year's Eve, as the clock strikes midnight, voices around the world sing "Auld Lang Syne," perhaps his most famous contribution, unknowingly echoing the sentiments of a man deeply in love with humanity and its follies.

In this digital age, Burns' verses have found new life, shared across social media, proving that good poetry, like a fine whisky, only gets better with age.


So, as you raise your glass this Burns Night, remember you're not just toasting a poet. You're celebrating a legacy, a man who encapsulated the spirit of a nation and the heart of its people. And if you've never experienced a Burns Supper, consider this your invitation to a world where poetry meets pleasure, and every verse comes with a side of haggis.