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Burns Night Supper

Celebration meal to Robert Burns of haggis, neeps and tatties and whisky with the popular songs and poems read and sung and the traditions surrounding Burns Night with information about the various speeches like the Immortal Memory and the Toast To The Lassies:

Each 25th of January, Scots around the World, will celebrate the birth of famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. We will discuss the origins of the celebrations and the format of a typical evening.

Burns Night Supper

First Burns Supper

In 1796 on the 21st July the Scottish bard, died and his friends organised a supper in 1802 so that they could gather, read out his poems, sing his songs, have a meal of haggis and drink to his memory. This was the first Burns supper though the origins of celebrating it started a year before:

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In 1801 on the anniversary of his birthday on the 25th January a number of non commissioned officers and privates of the Argyll Militia who were at Ayr went to the Cottage at Alloway where he was born. The band of the regiment went with the men and played several of his airs. The Cottage was then being used as an Inn (The King's Arms) so a bit of drinking took place. Other sources state that this was a party of nine men who met at the invitation of the Reverend Hamilton Paul. He organised the meeting on behalf of the Provost of Ayr, John Ballantyne, and the lawyer, Robert Aiken, who were his friends.

The Broons Burns Night book is now available to buy having been published by Waverley Books with extra pages from the original that was given away with the Sunday Post. It includes how The Broons celebrate, what foods they eat, their recipes and various poems. It includes special poems such as Granpaw's Toast To The Lassies and a Toast To Absent Friends by Hen Broon.

Also in 1801 the first Burns Club was set up in Greenock and they set up the first Burns supper with friends of his in Ayr. They met in Alloway in 1802 to have a meal of sheep's head and haggis and to fondly remember their friends by reading his poetry and singing his songs. This is now known as The Mother Club.

The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns

The second was formed in Paisley in 1805. The secretary was Robert Tannahill the town's weaver poet. It is known as the Daughter Club.

Since then it has been the tradition to celebrate with a ceremony meal of haggis, neeps and tatties, to read his poems and to sing his songs and to drink whisky to his memory on his birthday, the 25 January.

burns night

For the first ten years the event was held on the 29 January because it was thought that this was his birthday. This was due to an error by his first biographer, James Currie, who incorrectly wrote his birth date as the 29th. During this decade they were also held in the summer months but these were short lived because farmers were too busy in the summer months and eventually the true birth date of the 25th was marked as the right date to celebrate.

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What Is A Burns Supper

It can be a formal or informal occasion and is a celebration, a chance to enjoy his works and eat and drink some fine Scottish food and drink. A more formal one will follow the format below:

Guests are piped into the ceremony by a Pipe Major and the top table are the last to be seated. More formal ones may see them to their tables and have a piped procession just for the top table. As they enter the room the others will stand in their honour and clap.

The main speaker for the evening will usually be seated to the right of the Chairman. Other top table guests will include the Minister who is giving the prayer, any members of the Burns Federation, any civic representative and the spouses or partners. The piper stops playing and a round of applause if given to the bagpipe player.

Burns Night Speeches

The chairman of the event gives a small welcome speech. Sometimes a prayer is given and at most the Selkirk Grace is recited in the Scots dialect. Other Burns Night speeches are more in the form of toasts:

Immortal Memory

It is a great honour to be asked to propose the Immortal Memory speech. There are examples of Immortal Memory toasts but generally it is a small talk about his importance to Scotland and how honoured Scots are to be able to read his works. It should truly inspire each guest to want to continue reading his works when they get home, long after the honour has been said.
It may be preceded or announced by a fiddler playing some of his works. This lively music can set up the speaker nicely. His speech should be about 20 - 35 minutes long. As an example he may start by reciting a few sentences of a poem and then give a talk about what the Bard meant when he wrote those words and then give its relevance to today's society and the modern society. During this speech he may talk about aspects and achievements like being a preserver of the Scot's language and bring his discussion to what he would have made of life today.

Later in the evening a member of the Committee or the Chairman should honour the speaker with an appreciation of the speech given.

Toast To The Lassies

A toast to the ladies is made, in recognition of his love for the lassies! It is sometimes spelt lasses. His poem To The Lassies is a popular recital and some jokes should be made. This should be light hearted and humorous, as an example he can point out the shortcomings of women and the ways he pointed these out. He should always make sure to end by being complimentary to the lassies though. After this he raises his glass, the men in the room stand, and then says "Tae The Lassies!" and another dram of whisky is drunk.

The women have an opportunity to reply which is humorously called the Toast Tae The Laddies! They give a funny view on men talking about their various shortcomings.

Each of these speeches should not take longer than 10 minutes. More formal ones may toast The Queen.

Burns Night Menu

Most will consist of a large haggis being piped into the room by a Pipe Major. The guests will usually stand during the piping of the haggis. It is carried on a gleaming silver tray usually by the VIP guest or the chef. If carried by the guest then the chef will walk behind the piper. Behind the chef will follow the person reciting the address to the haggis and the whisky bearer who tops up the whisky glasses and offers a dram to the chef and the piper.

Toast To The Haggis

The Chairman will then invite the chef, the piper or fiddler and the gathering to toast the haggis with a dram of whisky. The most popular is "Slainte mhath" the Gaelic toast which is pronounced as slan je va and translates to English as Good Health.

During the procession to the top table the guests will clap in time to the bagpipe music. A man's a man for aw that is the most popular bagpipe tune to pipe it in. The beastie as it is often nicknamed, is placed at the top table. The piper will then stop playing the bagpipes and the clapping stops. It is then cut open by the speaker who will recite some poems, usually Address To A Haggis which extols its virtue over other dishes. This moment is sometimes nicknamed the slaying. There are several key words which signify when the speaker should cut into it. So when he recites His knife see rustic Labour dicht the cutting knife is raised. As the words An' cut you up wi' ready slicht the knife is lowered in a fast dramatic action and it is cut open. Some chefs will make a small cut at the top to expel the trapped air to make cutting safer, rather than have hot food splatter over the top table guests. It is then toasted, a dram of whisky being the favoured tipple. Some pour a nip of whisky over it. The supper is eaten after the Selkirk Grace.

Haggis Neeps and Tatties

It is served with neeps and tatties (turnip or swede and potatoes known by Scottish people as chappit or champit tatties and bashit or bashed neeps) and some chefs combine the ingredients with chives to make the delicious dish of clapshot. Vegetarian haggis is often available nowadays and larger functions may also serve a fish dish like salmon or steak pie made by the local butcher. Toasts are said before, during and after the meal. The accompanying drink is usually a dram (or three!) of whisky. The Burns night menu is traditionally called The Bill of Fare in honour of this phrase being in the poem To A Haggis.

Scotch Broth Soup (also called Barley Broth) or Cock a Leekie Soup may be served as a starter and clootie dumpling pudding served as a dessert. Other puddings served on a Bill of Fare include cranachan with Raspberries or Sherry Trifle. Other names for Sherry Trifle include tyspy laird and Scotch Trifle.

The more formal ones may round off the meal with bannocks and oatcakes and a selection of cheeses which may include a Scottish cream cheese called Crowdie and the local cheese of Ayrshire that he would have enjoyed, the Dunlop Cheese. Coffee and tea are then served.

Afterwards, or between courses, speakers may entertain with musings and anecdotes or more recitings of his work, songs and poems. Musicians and singers will sing and perform his songs such as My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose. Tam O'Shanter is a common poem to recite, as are The Cotter's Saturday Night and Holy Willie's Prayer. A popular work to recite is The Immortal Memory that pays tribute to his talent.

The evening is usually rounded off with a ceilidh, the finish of this is cued with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

A more formal ceremony may require a black tie dress code of dinner jacket and bow tie or a kilt or Highland dress for the men and evening dress for the ladies. Less formal ones, perhaps those held in a local community centre or pub may allow the gents to wear a suit or sports jacket and tie with smart trousers whilst women can wear smart clothing of skirts and trousers and blouses or other tops. At the least it is expected that every guest will wear an article of tartan clothing such as a tartan tie, tartan skirt, tartan trousers or even tartan socks or tartan tights. The dress code should be stated on the invitation or ticket.

Bachelor's Club

Perhaps the most exclusive one takes place at the Bachelor's Club in Tarbolton when the fiddle that William Greig, who taught him to dance, is brought down from Culzean Castle and played to a select group. Aboutaberdeen hopes to get an invite one year!

Read about Robert Burns.

Aberdeenshire Burns Night Supper Events.

More Scottish customs and traditions.

The easier way to find a piper for hire is to visit the site which lists pipers who are available to perform.

One on Mount Kilimanjaro took place in January 2011 where Scots which included radio presenter and comic Fred MacAulay and Andrew Fairlie the Michelin star chef at Gleneagles Hotel cooked and ate one at the summit. Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland organised this historic event to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns. It included the address with a whisky toast and a piper.

Andrew Fairlie had to adjust his cooking times to the environment and the 19,000ft summit. For example the boiling point of water at that altitude and height of Mount Kilmanjaro is 78 degrees Celsius so the one provided by Simon Howie butcher had to be cooked longer, as had the neeps and tatties. The event raised thousands of pounds for the HIT Scotland and Diabetes UK charites.
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