• Elle

What Is Burns Night and How Do You Celebrate It?

Note: This article was first published January 24, 2018, on my Tea & Scandal blog.


Burns Night, called Burns Supper in the U.K., is the night the world celebrates Scotland’s beloved poet, Robert Burns (affectionately known as “Rabbie Burns”).

You may recall reading “To a Mouse” or “To a Louse” in school? Perhaps this rings a bell: “O my Luve is like a red, red rose...”

January 25 is the Ploughman Poet’s birthday, which falls on a Thursday this year. This is the night to don your kilt, break out those bagpipes, and toast the the Bard of Ayrshire.

There is a traditional order and substance to the Burns Supper. What proceeds, however, is the layman’s edition of How to Celebrate Burns Night.

(P.S. I’ve created a board on Pinterest with recipes and excerpts and other pins to inspire your own Burns Night. Take a look at the whiskey cake, will you!)

Wear Tartan

Sometime after graduating, I lost my old school uniform kilt. But looking around my house, I see a shed-load of plaids. I’ve got coats and scarfs and skirts and hats, and my husband’s closet is lined with plaid flannel shirts.

The tartan is historically—even psychologically—significant to Scots. The combinations of colors and patterns represent differing Scottish localities and clans. In the 18th century, when Rabbie Burns was alive, to own or wear a tartan was a crime against the throne.

Be a rebel. Wear your tartan on Burns Night.

Cook Haggis

What is haggis, you ask? It’s a sheep’s organs made into a pudding, and encased in its stomach. Gagging yet?

I know I will not be making a haggis this Burns Night, but might I offer some other traditional Scottish meals?

Cock-a-leekie soup, for example, is not as scandalous as its name suggests. It’s a chicken broth with leeks—quite healthy. Serve with bread, and dinner’s ready.

Here is a simple recipe for cock-a-leekie: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/16360/cock-a-leekie-soup/.

Or, if you can handle a few more steps/ingredients, this one looks lovely:


Potato soup will do as well, or “tatties and neeps” (potatoes and rutabaga): https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1677/neeps-and-tatties

If you don’t fancy haggis, you must at least read Burns’s “Address to a Haggis”. This site includes a translation: http://www.robertburns.org.uk/Assets/Poems_Songs/toahaggis.htm

Play Bagpipes

Oh, you don’t have a set either? Well, when you can’t have a real bagpiper, there’s always iTunes and YouTube.

Here’s one hour of piping and drumming to get you started:

Say Grace

This one you can handle; I promise. The Selkirk Grace was said to be used by Burns. It is good to give thanks before you partake. (I will be thankful I’m not eating haggis.)

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.

Drink Whiskey

I do keep a bottle of Jameson handy—for medicinal purposes, of course—but since it’s Irish and since I don’t like to drink it straight, I’d like to propose another drink for Burns Night. (Because we do want to wake up well the morning after, right?)

A friend of mine, a perennial traveler, introduced me to Crabbies, a ginger beer imported from Scotland. You can search for shops that sell Crabbies, including many grocery markets, here: https://www.crabbiesgingerbeer.com/find-crabbies/

Serve your Crabbies over ice with a slice of lime.

Give Toasts

Traditionally, one would toast the “Immortal Memory” of Robert Burns. You can recite a poem here. Some of the popular ones are “Auld Lang Syne,” “A Red, Red Rose,” and “My Heart’s in the Highlands.”

Here’s a stanza from the latter:

Next, the men toast the lassies. Then the women toast the laddies. (These should be witty and not insulting.)

To end Burns Night, guests should hold hands and sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Make Tea

Finding a Scottish blend in the States isn’t easy. My local tea room (which will definitely be blogged about here in the future) imports it, but I haven’t found it in any shops.

You can buy it on Amazon, but note, it is blended especially for Scotland’s soft water.

No worries, though, mate. PG Tips is a popular brand of tea throughout the United Kingdom and, thanks to a “tip” from a friend, I buy mine at Wegmans. Also, Lipton originated in Glasgow, and you’ve probably got that already in your cupboard!

For Bairns

I highly recommend a membership to Happythought, a UK-based online treasure trove of printable paper crafts. Membership is a one-time $10 fee, but it comes with lots of free templates for DIY activities and a discount on everything in the shop.

For the wee laddies and lassies, download a paper thistle template for a Burns Night make-it-and-take-it memento. (Happythought provides step-by-step written instructions as well as video tutorials.)

It’s fun for us auld folk too! You can print mini tartan kilts for your naked ginger beer bottles.

Find all the Burns Night offerings here: https://happythought.co.uk/template-ideas/scottish-celebrations

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