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Adding Scottish (and a Clan Baird) Holiday Touch: Burns Night Supper

Your Ultimate Guide at bringing a touch of Scottish and Baird Traditions, both old and new to your holidays throughout the year. We will look at both Highland, Lowland, and diasporic traditions and how incorporating elements of these Scottish Traditions, including historic traditions, into your life can help you protect and pass culture and heritage. Today, we look at the Scottish heritage cultural celebration on January 25th - the Burns Night Supper


“I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion

Has broken Nature’s social union,

An’ justifies that ill opinion,

Which makes thee startle,

At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,

An’ fellow-mortal.”

-Rabbie Burns (Robert Burns) - To A Mouse

Robert Burns, or Rabbie Burns, is the undoubtedly one of the most famous poets in English and Scots language. He is described as the Bard of Scotland and he may very well be. His poetry is taught in Schools through out the world and his words ever become etched in modern vernacular. Whether the title of Steinbeck’s novel “Mice and Men” or the song Auld Lang Syne sung ever New Years, Robert Burns’s poetry is timeless.

In the example given, the poet upon spying a mouse, recognizes the commonality of man and a what many consider a pest. He reflects on the life of mouse and its similarities to the poet. These evocative lines continue with the famous quote:

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,

Which is often rendered, in the modern business sphere, as:

“The best laid plan of mice and men oft go awry.”

The Celebration

Each year, on the 25th of January, Scots gather to celebrate this poet and his work with the Burns night supper. This supper includes a night of food, drink and poetry. This is a celebration worth having. It is a night celebrating the culture(s) of Scotland which is reflected heavily in his poetry.

Burns night suppers can range from large extravagant affairs at community or social clubs to events held in a person’s home. It could even be held by a single person. Regardless of where or how many people attend, there are a few requirements that should be met.

Food, Drink, and Music

No burns night can be held without food and in this case, it is held with Scotland’s national dish is first and foremost. No Burn’s night can be celebrated without a haggis, neeps and tatties being served. These days Vegan, Kosher, and Halal versions of the Haggis have been created. The night’s dinner also includes a traditional broth or soup like Cock-a-leekie soup, Scotch Broth or Cullen skink. A traditional night might include a fine whiskey.

To hold a traditional Burns night supper, the following is recommended by History Scotland.

How to Hold a Burn Night Supper:

Piping in the guests - to bapgipe or traditional music

At formal events, bagpipers may play while guests arrive, at less formal events, some traditional Scottish music or Scots language music is played while guests arrive and mignle

Reciting of the Selkirk Grace (see below)

The host will say a few words, and perhaps discuss the reason for gathering, and then Selkirk Grace is given. This is recited after the guests have entered the room and are seated at the table and before the haggis is piped to the table.

Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat an canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.

Soup Course

Supper can begin with a traditional Scottish Soup such as Cullen Skink, Scotch broth, a potato soup or cock-a-leekie soup.

Piping in the Haggis

All of the guests arise as the Haggis is piped in and brought to the table. The host or a guest speaker then delivers the Address to a Haggis:

Original Poem

Idiomatic Translation

​Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o' a grace As lang's my airm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill, Your hurdies like a distant hill, Your pin wad help to mend a mill In time o' need, While thro' your pores the dews distil Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht, An' cut you up wi' ready slicht, Trenching your gushing entrails bricht, Like ony ditch; And then, O what a glorious sicht, Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive: Deil tak the hindmaist! on they drive, Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve, Are bent like drums; Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive, "Bethankit" hums.

Is there that o're his French ragout Or olio that wad staw a sow, Or fricassee wad mak her spew Wi' perfect scunner, Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash, As feckless as a wither'd rash, His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash, His nieve a nit; Thro' bloody flood or field to dash, O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread. Clap in his wallie nieve a blade, He'll mak it whistle; An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned, Like taps o' thristle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o' fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware That jaups in luggies; But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer, Gie her a haggis!

​Nice seeing your honest, chubby face, Great chieftain of the sausage race! Above them all you take your place, Belly, tripe, or links: Well are you worthy of a grace As long as my arm.

The groaning platter there you fill, Your buttocks like a distant hill, Your pin would help to mend a mill In time of need, While through your pores the dews distill Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour sharpen, And cut you up with practiced skill, Trenching your gushing entrails bright, Like any ditch; And then, Oh what a glorious sight, Warm-steaming, rich!

Then, spoon for spoon, they stretch and strive: Devil take the hindmost, on they drive, 'Til all their well-swollen bellies soon Are tight as drums; Then old Master, most likely to burst, 'Thanks Be' hums.

Is there one, that over his French ragout, Or olio that would give pause to a sow, Or fricassee that would make her spew With perfect loathing, Looks down with sneering, scornful view On such a dinner?

Poor devil! See him over his trash, As feeble as a withered rush, His spindly leg a good whip-lash, His fist a nit: Through bloody flood or field to dash, Oh how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread, Clap in his sturdy fist a blade, He'll make it whistle; And legs and arms, and heads will cut, Like tops of thistle.

You Pow'rs, that make mankind your care, And dish them out their bill of fare, Old Scotland wants no watery ware That slops in bowls: But, if You wish her grateful prayer, Give her a Haggis!

When the guest or host reaches the line “His knife see rustic Labour dicht,” the presenter normally draws and sharpens a knife. When they reach the line “An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,” the individual then slices the haggis and cuts it open.

Toast to the Haggis and Main Course

At the end of the address, a whisky toast is given to the haggis and the guest are allowed to sit. Haggis is served with mashed potatoes(Tatties) and mashed swedes (Neeps). Other courses can be given such as deserts like cranachan or followed by oatcakes and cheese.

The 'Immortal Memory'

An account of the life of Robbie Burns is given which is then followed by Burns's songs and poems.

Toast to The Lassies

A traditional thank you to the women involved in the preparations (and a lighthearted homage to Burns's love of women). Recently the toast is more wide ranging about the speakers view on women and is not offensive but amusing.

Toast to The Laddies

A response from women to the men that is also wide-ranging and humorous. Typically, the men and women who provide these toast will collaborate before hand so that their toast align with each other and complement them.

Finale with Auld Lang Syne

Everyone is asked to join with hands clasped and sing Auld Lang Syne to bring the evening to an end.

Why You Should Hold a Burns Night Supper

Burns Night Suppers represent a celebration of Scotland, Scottish Culture, and heritage. It is our great opportunity in this fast paced and often frightening world to know that we are welded together like links in a change to cultures and traditions that have been celebrated for centuries. These traditions provide clarity and mental wellbeing in these days.

This year, celebrate the themes of equality, justice, commonality of all human beings as well the love and honour through the gift of Robert Burns poetry and the Burns night supper.

Let us know in the comments what we got right. What do you do differently? How do you celebrate Burns night?

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