Burns Night: plan your own party

B3C37D A haggis on a plate with a glass of whiskey

Burns Night, the annual celebration of the life of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns is here. Here is all you need to know to throw the finest of Scottish parties…

The best-known portrait of Burns, by Alexander Nasmyth, 1787. Credit: wikipedia

The annual commemoration of Scottish poet Robert Burns, Burns Night, held on his birthday on 25 January, has been a custom now for over 200 years.

This year will no doubt see fans of Burns and his country’s literary heritage gather all over the world to celebrate his legacy with haggis, poetry recitals and a glass of fine Scotch whisky.

The event was originally started by friends of the Scottish bard, aka Rabbie Burns, towards the end of the 18th century, as a supper to honour his memory. It began on 21 July, the anniversary of his death, but this gradually changed after the first Burns club was founded. Holding its first Burns supper on 29 January, only to later discover this wasn’t Burns’ actual birthday, the club then moved it to the 25 January, the date still used to this day. It remains one of the most important dates on the Scottish calendar, though celebrations are certainly not confined to north of the border.

To host your own Burns Night you need:

Poetry

As Scotland‘s national poet, Robbie Burns’ work is still ingrained in Scottish culture and is a large part of the country’s literary heritage. His greatest works include To a Mouse, My Luve is like a Red Red Rose and of course Auld Lang Syne, which is traditionally sang at the very end of a Burns Night party.

The traditional Burns Night dish of haggis. Credit: Visit Britain
The traditional Burns Night dish of haggis. Credit: Visit Britain

Neeps and tatties…and whisky

Often associated with deep-fried Mars bars and Irn Bru, Scottish cuisine gets an unreasonably bad press. But don’t let this fool you. Burns Night traditionally features a host of delicious dishes, including rich creamy soup Cullen skink and cranachan, a delectable mixture of whipped cream, honey and fresh raspberries, with toasted oatmeal soaked overnight in a little bit of whisky. Even haggis tastes fantastic served alongside plenty of buttery neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes). And of course, all this must be washed down with the national drink, whisky.

A traditional kilt and sporran. Credit: Visit Britain
A traditional kilt and sporran. Credit: Visit Britain

A kilt…and a sporran

If you want to truly embrace all things Scottish, donning some tartan is a must. Kilts are usually worn instead of a black tie and suit at formal occasions, especially on St Andrew’s, Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) and of course Burns’ Night. The pattern of a tartan is often linked with a Scottish surname or clan (a group of families) but tartans have been designed for cities and businesses too and some surnames have several patterns linked with them in a palette of different colours. The sporran is also a traditional part of male Scottish Highland dress; a pouch that performs the same function as pockets on the pocketless kilt.

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