Everything you need to know about Burns Night

Robert burns

Ever since the first Burns Night was held in 1801, Scots around the world have gathered together on 25th January to celebrate Scotlands National Poet, Robert Burns.  Here is a guide to everything you need to know about Burns Night (as far as we know!)

Who was Robert Burns?

Robert Burns lived between 1759-1796 and is affectionately known as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet amongst other names.  He is regarded as Scotland’s National Poet.  His popularity seems to stem from his poetry being written in Scots as well as Scots English, making them accessible to many.  He was a farmer and traveller as well as a poet.

Why is Burns Night celebrated?

The first Burns Night was held on the fifth anniversary of his death in 1801 and has been held regularly since.  It is a celebration of the works and life of Robert Burns. January in Scotland is a dark affair so no doubt everyone was happy for any excuse for whisky, food and gathering with friends.

Robert burns

What is a Burns Supper

This is what the event is called.  A Burns Supper is an event where haggis is served alongside poems from Burns and,  of course, whisky.

What happens at a Burns Supper

A Burns Supper can be formal or informal, a bit like most Scottish get-togethers, the idea is to get fed, have a drink and have fun.  At any Burns event you will no doubt eat haggis, neeps and tatties – haggis, turnips (well, actually swede) and potatoes and listen to poetry from Burns.  At grander affairs, there is a proper running order.

The host says a few words and the Selkirk Grace is said.

Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it,

But we hae meat and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

The starter is served.  Then the haggis is piped in and ceremoniously paraded throughout the seated guests.  Guests applaud the arrival of the haggis with a slow handclap.

Eventually, the haggis is placed in front of the host who will recite the address, “To a Haggis”.  When the host reaches the part of the poem in bold below, they will plunge a large knife into the haggis.  Then along with the chef and the piper down a dram of whisky in one gulp.

To a Haggis

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 arm.

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 dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

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

Is there that owre 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 owre 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 walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

After the meal is finished the next item is the immortal memory.  This is where there is a speech which can be either light-hearted or serious and is about the life of Burns or his poetry.
Malmaison, Glasgow, Glasgow Mal, tasting, the honours Glasgow, food, event, Glasgow foodie, foodie explorers, blogger, writer, Douglas Laing, whisky, whisky tasting, pairing,

Toast to the Lassies

This is usually a tongue-in-cheek male view of women. A time for some laughs and a toast to the health of women.

Toast to the Laddies

Another light-hearted toast with a reply to the toast to the lassies from a female guest.

Songs and Poems

Afterwards, there may be more songs and poems by either invited guests or those attending the supper.

Closing the Burns Supper

Finally, the host will call on one of the guests to give the vote of thanks. Then, everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne to bring the evening to an end.


Auld Lang Syne (Standard English version)

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


For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the hills,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Burns supper courses

Hearty, filling food should be served at a Burns supper.

Starter – usually soup such as Lentil SoupScotch Broth or Cock-a-leekie soup or a luxurious Cullen Skink.

Lentil soup recipeLentil Soup vegan scotch broth recipe 2Scotch Broth Cock_a_leekie_soup2Cock-a-leekie-soup

Main courseHaggis, neeps and tatties aka haggis, turnip (or swede) with mashed potatoes. Perfect with some whisky gravy as well.

gleneagles alan gibb haggis starter burns night recipeHaggis Neeps and Tatties Whisky sauce gravy burns supperWhisky Gravy


Clootie Dumpling, Tipsy Laird or Cranachan and traditional desserts.



Burns Supper Drinks

Did you know you can get Scottish wine?

Cairn O Mohr - Gangs wi' haggis
Image courtesy of Cairn O Mohr

Gangs wi’ haggis – a blend of the Bramble and Autumn oak leaf wine specially devised to complement haggis, neeps and tatties. Find out more from Cairn O Mohr.

anCnoc 12-Year-Old Single Malt

Ancnoc 12 year old whisky

A soft and sweet whisky anCnoc pairs well with a peppery haggis. Buy here.

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

The Glen Moray 12 year old is another suggestion for Burns Night.  A rich whisky with notes of toasted oak and vanilla. Buy here

Glen moray whisky

Lidl have a range of whiskies in store which are great value for money.

Lidl Ben bracken whisky

Complex and smoky, this whisky offers a generous mouthful of spices and flavours including walnut cake, dark toffee, bonfires and baked apples.

Warming and rich aromas of crème brulee, brioche, and candied orange excite the tastebuds in this Highland masterpiece. Tastes of dark chocolate, coffee and black Morello cherries add a layer of luxuriousness to this whisky.

Light and refined, this Speyside single malt offers sweet nuances of vanilla, creamy caramel and cinnamon, as well as more robust flavours of coffee, roasted almonds and dried raisins. Silky and smooth.

Burns Supper Music

We don’t know about you but we don’t have a piper, so here’s a Spotify link to some Scottish Music for playing in the background.

Burns Supper Party Template

If you are planning on having a Burns Supper, here is a Burns Supper template to help along the way.


Whatever you do this Burns Night, have fun 🥃 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

See the handy Pinterest image below if you wish to pin this for later 😘

foodie explorers everything you need to know about burns night

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I am Emma and with my husband Mark write Foodie Explorers, which is a food and travel website.

I am a member of the Guild of Food Writers and British Guild of Travel Writers.

We have a wide range of judging experience covering products, hotels and have judged, for example, for Great Taste Awards and Scottish Baker of the Year.

Along the way Mark gained WSET Level 2 in Wine and I have WSET Level 2 in Spirits as well as picking up an award with The Scotsman Food and Drink Awards.    

Usually I can be found sleeping beside a cat.

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