Having recently relocated to York from Glasgow, it has become somewhat of a running joke that I like to talk about Scotland at any possible opportunity, and the 25th January provides the perfect opportunity for me to do just that – it’s Burns’ Night. While Burns’ Night doesn’t quite beat Christmas, Hogmanay and our own birthdays on our celebration list, the birthday of the legendary Scots poet Robert Burns does allow us Scots an excuse to do what we do best – eat, drink and dance. Since I won’t be in Scotland for Burns’ Night this year I’m planning to enjoy a DIY Burns’ Night in York, and I’ve compiled a round-up of some of the top Burns’ Night traditions so you can do the same, wherever you are in the UK.
1) Burns’ Supper
As with any great celebration, Burns’ Night wouldn’t be complete without a signature dish, in this case – Burns’ Supper. The traditional dinner is made up of Scottish classics – haggis, neeps and tatties aka haggis, turnip and potatoes. For those who are still a little bit unsure as to what exactly haggis is, it’s made up of sheep’s pluck minced with oats, onions and spices – and it’s delicious! You can also get an equally tasty vegetarian option. If you want to go the whole hog add in a starter of cock-a-leekie soup, a dessert of cranachan and of course, plenty of Scotch whisky for drinking.
2) Piping in the haggis
Before you can start preparing your Burns’ Supper you must first of all pipe in the haggis – obviously. Traditionally, the haggis will be brought in on a silver platter by the Chef, who is preceded by a piper and followed by the guest who will be giving the Address to the Haggis. If you don’t happen to have bagpipes and a kilt lying around, you could take the modern route and stick some piping music on Spotify as you carry the haggis to your table.
3) Address to the haggis
The haggis really is the star of the night (sorry Rab). Once the haggis has been brought to the table it’s time for your chosen speaker to perform a rendition of Burns’ Address to a Haggis, which essentially apologises for ‘killing’ the haggis. Ask your most dramatic friend if they’d be happy to perform the address, as the recital is a full-on affair – with the speaker plunging a knife into the haggis and cutting it open upon the line, “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight.” The address ends with the speaker holding the haggis above their head while delivering the line, “Gie her a Haggis” as the table applauds.
4) Toast to the Haggis
It’s almost time to tuck in to your Burns’ Supper,I promise, but first – we must toast the haggis. Raise your dram (whisky) and chant ‘the haggis’. The haggis is then piped back to the kitchen to be prepared, and then, it’s time to eat.
5) Burns’ poems
Burns’ Night is a celebration of the life and work of Robert Burns, so of course the Scottish poet’s famous work also plays a large part in the night. Popular poems to recite include A Red, Red Rose and Tam O’Shanter. A poem is usually performed after dinner, with more interspersed through the night.
6) Toast to the Lassies and Reply to the Laddies
Burns’ Night is also filled with plenty of toasts. We’ve already had the Toast to the Haggis, now it’s time for the Toast to the Lassies. This is a chance for one of your male guests to make a speech in honour of the ladies in the room. It is tradition for the speech to include some good-natured jokes towards the women, but remember it’s all in good fun so don’t get too personal. And don’t worry girls, we soon get the chance to get our own back with the Reply to the Laddies, where one woman makes a toast thanking the men for their ‘kind words’ and hitting back with some less-than-kind jokes of their own.
7) Ceilidh Dancing
#Burnsnight is coming! Whether you were born and raised in the family tartan, or timid tourists gingerly toasting Robert Burns, you might fancy a bit of inspiration and we have JUST the thing – thanks to our whacking great Bystander archive! Head to Tatler.com to see them all…#burnsnight2016 #tartan
Once the haggis, neeps and tatties have been digested, all of the best Burns’ Nights launch into a ceilidh. Never been to a ceilidh before? Don’t worry, the co-ordinated dances are simple to pick up – usually consisting of a sequence of four to five steps repeated on a loop. Some of my faves are The Canadian Barn Dance, The Military Twostep and, of course, the classic St Bernard’s Waltz. Why not have a search on YouTube to get familiar with some of the dances. You do need a sizeable amount of space for ceilidh dancing, so try and clear out a large area, and make sure to put the valuables away – Great Granny’s antique vase probably won’t survive a Virginia Reel. Alternatively, have a look at what’s going on in your local area, at this time of year you can usually find some ceilidh events happening across the whole of the UK.
8) Auld Lang Syne
Of course, as any Scottish celebration does, the night is rounded off by a rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Gather your guests in a circle, cross over your arms to take hands with those next to you and sing your heart out. If you want to end the night in true Scots style, follow up Auld Lang Syne with lesser known but equally emotive Loch Lomond by Runrig. As the song reaches its crescendo everyone runs into the middle of the circle and back out again while still holding hands – we did warn you to hide that antique vase.
So go on, don your best tartan and try your own DIY Burns’ Night this year, or if you’d rather the authentic Scottish experience why not book a last-minute Scotland break. Whatever you decide, let us know how you plan to celebrate in the comment box below.