Burns Night is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns, the poet laureate of Scotland. He wrote in the Scots language and in a light Scots dialect of English in the late 18th century. He was a pioneer of the Romantic movement and inspired both liberalism and socialism. Not only did he write but he also collected Scottish folk songs and in so doing preserved Scottish culture. Robert Burns started out as a labourer but through hard work and education rose to the middle class as a poet, intellectual, satirist and exciseman (government official). He had several wives and 12 children. His influence on the Romantic movement and 19th century intellectualism was profound, including on Sir Walter Scott. Robert Burns lived from 1759 to 1796 - only for 37 years. But Burns Night is more than just Robert Burns, it is a celebration of the Scottish nation and the Scottish diaspora.
A Burns Supper is generally a planned event. The sequence of events is as follows:
- A bagpiper plays a tune to alert the guests that the dinner is about to start.
- The host welcomes the guests and may explain the reasons for the dinner.
- The Selkirk Grace is said.
- Sometimes a soup course is offered. This a Scottish soup such as Scotch broth, potato soup, cullen skink, or cock-a-leekie.
- The haggis is piped in quite often to the tune A Man's a Man for A'That and the the host recites the Address to the Haggis.
- Haggis is served with mashed potatoes and swede (rutabaga), sometimes called "neeps and tatties". Note that these must be prepared and served separately, otherwise one ends up with another Scottish dish called "clapshot".
- Haggis traditionally was humble food - not unlike what the English call "humble pie" - the offal of an animal was for the peasants while the choice cuts were for the rich. If one reads Burns' poetry one will find that the whole point of haggis for dinner is to remind guests that they are all equal regardless of their social status, wealth etc. as in A Man's a Man for A'That - "hamely fare".
- At the end of the Address, a whisky toast is proposed to the haggis and everyone sits down to dine.
- Other courses might be served as part of the meal - traditionally Scottish courses. Dessert might include cranachan, shortbread, cloutie dumpling or tipsy laird (whiskey trifle), followed by oatcakes and cheese with whiskey.
- At the coffee stage (not tea), the following toasts and speeches are given:
- Immortal Memory - the main speaker remembers some aspect of Burns' life or poetry - sometimes even a light-hearted speech where a "long lost" poem is discovered. This is concluded with a toast to the immortal memory of the Bard.
- Address to the Lassies - given by a male speaker and it should be amusing but not offensive. Men drink to the women's health.
- Reply to the Laddies - given by a female speaker and it should amusing and not offensive.
- Works by Burns - singing of songs or recitals of poetry by Burns might ensue. The Pipe Band will often perform along with other performers, depending on availability - such as highland dancers, Scottish country dancers, fiddlers etc.
- Closing - the host will call one of the guests to give the vote of thanks. Everyone stands and joins hands and sings Auld Lang Syne to bring the event to an end.
With the onset of COVID-19 no formal Burns Nights have occurred since the last one in January 2020. Some attempts to run a Burns Night by Zoom have been attempted. It is hoped these dinners will return once the pandemic ends. For the Band, the Burns Night is a fundraiser.
- Scottish cuisine - Wikipedia
- Burns supper - Wikipedia
- BBC - Robert Burns
- How to hold your own Burns Supper | Scotland.org
- Burns Supper Format, Burns Supper Running Order,Burns Supper Tips (scottish-haggis.net)
- How to Host a Burns Supper - YouTube
- The Definitive Address to a Haggis in Edinburgh Castle - YouTube
- GREATER VICTORIA POLICE PIPE BAND (CANADA) - Robbie Burns Night 2021 - YouTube