How to Host Your Own Burns Supper
Burns Night is a night no whisky or Scottish literature fan should miss! Celebrated to mark the birth of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, it is a night filled full of good food, performance - and of course, great whisky. Thinking about how to host your own Burns Supper? We’re here to share our top tips on how to make it a night to remember!
Who was Robert Burns?
Robert Burns or “Rabbie Burns” is regarded as one of Scotland’s most famous poets. Although Burns only lived a short life to the age of 37 (from 1759 - 1796), he is considered one of the greatest and most iconic figures within Scottish culture , so it comes as no surprise that his literary contributions are celebrated worldwide! It’s likely that no matter where you are in the world, you’ll have come across the works of Burns - even if you aren’t a poetry or literature fan. If you’ve ever brought in the new year with a verse or two of the song “Auld Lang Syne” - then you have seen the works of Burns in action!
Famous works of the bard include, “Tam o’ Shanter” and “Ae Fond Kiss” amongst many others. Burns’ work can be found today referenced throughout pop culture, found in many a book, film and TV show! Have you ever read the modern classic, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger? You’ll no doubt be familiar with the Burns’ poem “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”, which features heavily within the story. Are you a fan of Bob Dylan? Did you know his poem “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns has been listed as one of his greatest sources of inspiration?
Of course, the bard is an especially important character to Arran Whisky, as we are the creators of the official Robert Burns Whisky - the only whisky to be endorsed by the Robert Burns World Federation. No Burns Supper is complete without a good dram - and we like to commemorate his memory with just that.
What happens at a Burns Supper?
The very first Burns supper took place five years after Burns’ passing by friends to remember the career, life and times of the poet. Although the first celebration took place on his death anniversary of the 21st of July, people around the world now celebrate his works on or around his birthday - the 25th of January.
Today, Burns Night brings together people from all walks of life to indulge in an evening of Scottish food, drink, music and of course, lots of readings from Burns’ best works. Even if you’re not a big fan of poetry recitals, taking part in a Burns Night is a great way to become immersed in and experience a Scottish tradition that has remained relatively unchanged for over 200 years. It’s history in action!
Host Your Own Burns Supper - the Order
Taking part or hosting your own Burns Supper? Here’s what you can expect from the evening’s order of events:
- A Burns Supper always begins with a gathering of friends. If going all out, the host will sometimes have a piper play the guests in, however, for most a CD or online playlist with traditional Scottish music is more than enough. Once people have mingled for a while, the host of the night will introduce the evening, welcome his or her guests and invite everyone to take a seat.
- Once everyone is settled, it’s almost dinner time. The host will move to perform “The Selkirk Grace” - a short prayer said before the meal.
- Next comes the most anticipated part of the evening - piping in the haggis! Guests will usually stand for the arrival of the star guest of the evening, brought from the kitchen, followed by a procession of the chef/server, piper and the individual responsible for the first reading of the evening. Traditionally, the haggis is carried through on a silver platter. Often, at this point in the evening, guests are given a dram for toast bearing purposes.
- Don’t expect to dive into your dinner straight away! A designated reciter will perform the “Address to a Haggis” - one of Burns’ most famous poems over the meat. As the poem instructs, the reciter, whilst performing the reading, will cut into the haggis and “spill it’s guts” - a dramatic moment for sure! Once the poem is finished, the audience will be prompted by the reader to toast the haggis.
- The haggis is then led back to the kitchen for serving and the meal is served. A traditional Scottish three-course meal is served, typically featuring dishes such as Cock-a-leekie soup and Cranachan as the starter and dessert to accompany the main meal of haggis, “neeps” (turnip) and “tatties” (potatoes.) If there’s still room after, a meal may be finished off with a serving of cheese and oatcakes. After the meal is when the whisky connoisseurs come to life - it is your opportunity to compare the malts served throughout the evening by the host!
- The evening then moves into the performance portion of the night. The first performance will usually be a Burns’ song performed by a musician or singer. However, not to worry - if the nerves are simply too much to sing, then a reading of one of Burns’ most celebrated poems, such as “To a Louse” is perfectly acceptable too!
- Next up is the main tribute of the night to Robert Burns - known as “the Immortal Memory.” This is when the lead speaker of the evening recounts Burns’ life highlights, low points and gives insight into why he is so celebrated. The speech should typically balance both sincerity and comedy and leave guests feeling moved by the life of Robert Burns. The speech is then concluded with a toast.
- The Immortal Memory is then followed by another Burns’ reading or song. After perhaps a few more performances, the evening should move onto the “Toast to the Lassies” - a celebration of the role of women in present day. This is often a humorous but good-natured toast, using selective passages from the works of Burns. The toast is followed by the “Reply to the Toast to the Lassies” - an opportunity for a good-humoured poke back at the original toaster. After the reply, the final Burns reading is performed.
- The night ends with the host giving a “vote of thanks” to his or her guests. At this point, guests are welcomed to stand, cross hands and send off the night with a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules as to how you can host your own Burns Supper - some may prefer to break up the evening with a ceilidh dance or a Burns’ quiz. How you remember the bard is entirely up to you! The only thing that’s certain: you’ll need a steady supply of great whisky on hand!