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A Quick Guide to Burns Night in Scotland

A Quick Guide to Burns Night in Scotland


Scotland has some really fun celebrations- and boy can the Scots put on a party.

There’s St Andrews Day, Scotland’s official national day, the Edinburgh Festivals, and there’s also Hogmanay [what the Scots call New Year] which is an even bigger celebration than Christmas in Scotland, and one of the biggest New Year celebrations in the world.

Then there’s Burns Night! A night that celebrates a Scottish legend, and is an excuse to get together with your pals for a delicious meal.

So what is Burns Night, and how is it celebrated in Scotland?

What is Burns Night?

Burns Night is a celebration of Scotland’s National Bard [poet], Robert Burns. The celebration occurs each year on his birthday, January 25.

The celebration started after the bard’s death in 1796 when nine of his friends got together to celebrate the poet. What they didn’t know then was that their celebration would catch on, and be celebrated nationwide, and even across the world to this very day!

Originally, they met on the date of Burns’ death, on July 21. This eventually changed to his birthday.

Robert Burns: A Quick History

Robert Burns, also known as ‘Rabbie Burns’, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He was born in 1759 in Alloway in the Ayrshire region of Scotland.

He is Scotland’s national poet and is widely celebrated for being a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, a period that occurred in the late 18th century which saw writers, artists, singers and poets focus on emotion and feelings, individualism, the awe of nature and importance of imagination in their work. Romanticism was a revolt against the Age of Enlightenment which focused on reason, science and progress.

Basically, they thought all this talk of science and rationalisation of nature was a snooze fest, and it was so much more fun to look at things from a more magical and romantic perspective!

Using Scotland as his muse, he travelled the country extensively, writing lyrics and poems that would define Scotland as a nation. He wrote in Scots language, but also in English with a mixture of Scots.

Rabbie died in 1796 at the age of 37 from a long-standing heart condition which is sadly, kind of ironic. He is buried in the Burns Mausoleum in Dumfries.

Today you can see Burns’ influence throughout Scotland, through monuments, artwork, and the museums dedicated to him. His face is even on the £10 note in Scotland!

Fun fact: According to the Haggis, Robert Burns was a ”mad shagger”. He fathered nine children to his wife, Jean Armour, but only three survived infancy. Though he was married, he fathered at least another four children to other women. He also penned the poem, ‘The Bonnie Lass of Livingston’ at The Livingston Inn which is located in town where we live in Scotland!

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How is Burns Night celebrated today?

Burns Night is celebrated all over Scotland, and around the world.

Burns Night is usually celebrated with one of the many events held around Scotland, or in the home with friends. Burns Night is celebrated with a Burns Supper. There are toasts, a dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties [turnips and potatoes] and of course, whisky!

Address to a Haggis

One of Burns’ most famous poems was his Address to a Haggis, an ode to Scotland’s National dish. It is common to read this poem before cutting and serving up the haggis for Burns Supper.

First, the haggis is ceremoniously carried into the room on a silver platter and piped in by a bagpiper. The poem is then recited before the haggis is cut with the ceremonial knife.

I’ve also included the English translation for you, in the right-hand column. You can also listen to my [highly embarrasing] reading of Address to a Haggis, on Burns Night a few years ago!

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

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!
haggis neeps and tatties
Haggis, neeps and tatties

Auld Lang Syne

Another very well known tune that Burns wrote is Auld Lang Syne. Every Hogmanay at midnight, it’s common to hear this song across the streets of Scotland! It is also sung at the closing of Burns Night.

Here’s a good version of Auld Lang Syne to listen to:

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Other poems Burns’ was known for include ”A Red, Red Rose”, ”To A Louse”, ”To A Mouse”, ”Tam o’Shanter”, ”Ae Fond Kiss”, and ”The Battle of Sherramuir”.

How you can celebrate Burns Night from anywhere in the world

One way you can celebrate Burns Night from home is to call up your local butcher and see if you can purchase a haggis to enjoy on Burns Night.

Not so fun fact: Haggis is actually banned in the United States!

Sorry, USA, you guys might have to celebrate Burns Night with just whisky instead…

You can recite Burns’ poetry in your best Scottish accent and have some fun Scotland-themed games [test your knowledge with my Scotland quiz!]

Did you enjoy this guide? I’d really appreciate it if you could share it on social media! Thank you for supporting my content 🙂


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William McDill

Sunday 24th of January 2021

Well done, Yvette. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Yvette Webster

Sunday 24th of January 2021

I'm glad you found it interesting!