Sláinte Mhath! January 25 is Burns Night, an occasion to celebrate the life and legacy of Scottish poet Robert Burns. As many prepare their Burns supper, get all the details about this
On Jan. 25, Scots and ‘Scots-at-heart- come together to honor Robert Burns, the man highly regarded as the national poet of Scotland. Affectionately known as “the Ploughman Poet,” according to Scotland.org, his “verses stand as a fitting testament to Scotland’s proud literary history.” To celebrate, Scots traditionally hold a Burns supper, recite some of the bard’s most iconic work, and raise a glass to Robert Burns. There’s so much more to that, so get all the details so you have the best Burns Night ever.
1. The first Burns Night was held more than 200 years ago. Robert Burns was born on Jan. 25, 1759. He passed away on July 21, 1796. During his 37 years on this earth, he wrote poems in the Scots language (though many of his writing is in English, making it accessible beyond Scotland.) Viewed as an early pioneer of the Romantic Movement, his work has been ingrained in Scotland’s national identity. While the cause of death has been disputed, it’s believed he died due to chronic rheumatic heart disease. Five years after his death, in July 1801, the first Burns supper was held by his friends. 218 years later, the event is observed on his birthday.
2. There’s a Standard order to a proper Burns Night. There’s a traditional schedule to a Burns supper, according to Visit Scotland. There’s the piping in of guests (and if you can’t get a bagpiper to play your party, a Spotify playlist of Scottish music will do.) After the host welcomes everyone in, the Selkirk Grace (also known as Burn’s Grace at Kirkcudbright) is read aloud. After a light appetizer, in comes the haggis – to bagpipes, of course – and the host recites “Address to a Haggis.” Guests toast the haggis and everyone digs in.
After the meal, the night isn’t over. Burns’ work is recited, including the Immortal Memory, the main tribute speech to the Bard. A second recital is performed, then “Toast to the Lassies,” followed by “Reply to the Toast to the Lassies,” and then the final Burns recital. At the end of the night, everyone stands and sings “Auld Lang Syne,” as it was Robert Burns who wrote the poem that is sung at the start of every New Year. Also, while there’s no official greeting, saying “Sláinte Mhath” (pronounced “slanj’-uh va” per the Express) means “Good health!”
3. If you don’t have haggis, it’s not a Burns supper. “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!” So ends Burns’ “Address To A Haggis,” and forever, the meal is linked with the poet. For those who are a bit intimidated by the idea such a dish, Scotland.org has some contemporary takes on the dish (including a Vegetarian version.)
4. It’s a reason to get gussied up. “During formal Burns Suppers, guests are often expected to don evening wear or full traditional Scottish Dress. Women often wear a traditional tartan plaid, usually wrapped over a plain dress so that the tartan stands out, and then secured with a brooch. Alternatively, a tartan dress, skirt or other garments might be worn,” advises Scottland.org.
However, if you’re not Scottish, dressing up in traditional Scottish gear…is a bad idea. Just don’t do it. Use discretion. Tartans are more than just awesome patterns: they have historic significance and are attached to Scottish clans. Just so you know.
5. You should really go to Dumfries. Big Burns Supper is Scotland’s landmark Burns Night, and it’s held in Dumfries, the town he called home up until his death. The 2019 edition will feature “a heady mixture of cabaret, comedy, music, and entertainment in over 30 different venues as the town goes bonkers for 11 days of winter magic.”