The Burns Night Supper is a Scottish staple that has spanned the ages since the death of the bard in 1796. Despite not even being 40 years old when he died, Rabbie Burns made a huge impression on the Scottish people, so much so that the celebration of his life is a time honoured tradition still widely celebrated across the country.
If you’re planning a supper celebration in honour of the great man himself, there’s a few things you need to consider to make sure your evening is just right.
When will you have your party?
Burns night is traditionally held in celebration of the bard’s birth, which is the 25th January each year. However, you don’t have to have your Burns supper on that very night if it is not convenient to you and your guests. If the 25th falls on a weekday, you could end up with a poor turn out if guests have work commitments the next day. Similarly, holding it on the 25th can often mean your party is in competition with others in the area for speakers, guests and bands.
Where will you have your party?
Make sure the venue you are considering has plenty of room for all the people you’re intending to invite, as well as for the catering and any entertainment you’ve got planned. Despite being a Scottish celebration, plenty of Burns Night suppers are held south of the border too, so you could consider hotels in the Lake District and other locations as well as those in Scotland.
Who will be your Chairman?
The Chairman’s role is incredibly important at a Burns Night supper. Indeed, it need not be a man, but could be a lady from your guest list who is invited to be the master of ceremonies during the event. This person will be in charge of what happens and when, and usually gives the address to the haggis as well as keeping control of rowdy and garrulous guests.
The running order
If you’re planning a Burns Night party, you’d better know your traditions well. Should a born and bred Scot arrive at your event and find the Selkirk Grace has been omitted, be prepared for some complaints! Some suppers can be fairly informal occasions, whereas others are huge formal events chock full of pomp and circumstance. As a rough guide, most Burns suppers will include the following elements:
• Piping in of the guests: If you don’t have a proper piper to hand, some traditional music will do just fine.
• Chairman’s welcome: The host welcomes the guests and entertainers to the supper, and may run through the order of events at this point.
• The Selkirk Grace: A short but very important prayer read before the meal.
• Piping in the haggis: The star of the dinner is traditionally welcomed in on a silver platter by a piper along with the chef and the person who will address the haggis.
• Address to the haggis: The chairman, or another chosen person, now reads the poem ‘to a haggis’ to the assembled guests, cutting into the haggis with a knife at the point of ‘His knife see Rustic-labour dight’.
• Toast to the haggis: Everyone raises a glass to the haggis.
• Dinner: Dinner is traditionally cock-a-leekie soup, followed by haggis, neeps and tatties and finished off with either a clootie dumpling or a tipsy laird.
• Drink: Drink is a staple of every Burns Night party. Wine, ale and whisky by the barrel should be freely available throughout the evening.
Traditionally there will be several stages of entertainment, many of which involve recitals of Burn’s work as well as recitals of his life story. There will usually be a ‘toast to the lassies’ from a male speaker, and a ‘reply to the toast to the lassies’ by a female speaker.
However, it’s up to you how traditional you want to be. Some Burns Night’s do away with tradition after the meal and head into a lively Ceilidh or music and dancing from a more modern band. To keep it Burns focussed, you could run a quiz on his poetry or have competitions for the best recital.
Whether you’re sticking with tradition or not, the evening should be closed in real Burns Night fashion. After the entertainment has finished, your Chairperson should offer a (sometimes rather slurred) vote of thanks, and the lead the guests in a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.