Burns Supper

Celebrating Robert Burns: The Essence of Burns Supper Traditions

A Burns Supper is an annual celebration of the life and poetry of the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759–1796), held on or around his birthday, January 25th. These suppers can range from formal gatherings of aesthetes and scholars to uproariously informal rave-ups of drunkards and louts. The first Burns Supper was held in 1801 by Burns’s friends, five years after his death, and it has become a national phenomenon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora. The evening centers on the entrance of the haggis (a traditional Scottish dish) on a large platter to the sound of a bagpiper playing. A recitation of Burns’s poem “Address to a Haggis” follows, after which the haggis is ceremonially sliced open. The event may include other readings of Burns’s poetry and songs, Scottish music, and a speech in honor of the poet known as the “Immortal Memory.” Toasts and recitations continue throughout the evening, celebrating Scottish culture and heritage.

Key Traditions of Burns Supper

Address to a Haggis

A central ritual where Robert Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis” is recited before cutting into the haggis, a traditional Scottish dish, which is then served with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).

Toast to the Lassies and Reply

A series of toasts starting with the “Toast to the Lassies,” originally a thank you to the women for preparing the meal, now often humorous and covering a range of topics. The “Reply from the Lassies” follows, responding in kind.

Recitation of Burns’ Poetry and Songs

Attendees recite or perform some of Burns’ most beloved works, celebrating his contribution to Scottish culture and literature.

The Selkirk Grace

A short prayer or grace attributed to Burns, recited before the meal begins, thanking for the food in Scots language.

Piping in the Guests

A piper traditionally welcomes guests to the supper, playing Scottish tunes, creating an authentic atmosphere.

The Immortal Memory

A keynote speech that pays tribute to the life and works of Robert Burns, highlighting his impact on Scottish identity and culture.

Scottish Music and Dancing

The evening often includes performances of traditional Scottish music and may feature ceilidh dancing, engaging guests in cultural festivities.

Auld Lang Syne

The night concludes with guests holding hands and singing “Auld Lang Syne,” another of Burns’ famous works, symbolizing friendship and good will.

Whisky Toasts

Throughout the evening, attendees make various toasts using Scotch whisky, celebrating Scotland’s national drink alongside its national poet.

Tam o’ Shanter Recitation

A dramatic recitation of “Tam o’ Shanter,” one of Burns’ epic poems, is a common feature, showcasing his storytelling prowess and the supernatural themes in his work.

Most Important Works of Literature about Burns Supper

The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns

A comprehensive collection of Burns’ work is essential for any Burns Supper, as his poems and songs are recited and sung during the celebrations. His works such as “Address to a Haggis,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Tam o’ Shanter” are staples of the event.

“Robert Burns: A Life in Letters”

Edited by George Scott Wilkie, this collection of Burns’ correspondence offers insights into his thoughts, life, and the era he lived in. It can enrich one’s understanding of the poet whose birth is celebrated during Burns Supper.

“The Life of Robert Burns” by Catherine Carswell (1930)

This biography is one of the most notable accounts of Burns’ life, providing a detailed and nuanced exploration of his personal and professional experiences. It’s valuable for those looking to understand the man behind the celebrated poetry.

“Immortal Memory: Burns and the Scottish People” by Christopher A. Whatley

This book delves into the cultural and historical significance of Robert Burns in Scotland, exploring how his legacy has been celebrated and remembered through events like Burns Supper.

Best Cakes, Cookies, and Sweets for Burns Supper

Tipsy Laird:

A Scottish trifle dessert made with whisky, often served at Burns Supper.


A traditional Scottish dessert made with raspberries, cream, oatmeal, honey, and whisky.


A classic Scottish biscuit, often served as a sweet treat during Burns Supper festivities.

Dundee Cake

A rich fruit cake made with almonds, often enjoyed at Burns Suppers.

Clootie Dumpling

A traditional pudding made with dried fruits, spices, and suet, sometimes served at Burns Supper.

Black Bun

A type of fruit cake completely enclosed in pastry, traditionally served during Scottish celebrations, including Burns Supper.

Scottish Tablet

A fudge-like candy, perfect as a sweet treat for Burns Supper.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties Chocolate

Unique chocolate creations that mimic the flavors of the traditional Burns Supper dish.

Whisky Fudge

Fudge made with Scotch whisky, echoing the spirit of the celebration.

Raspberry and Whisky Sorbet

A modern Scottish dessert, combining traditional flavors in a refreshing way.

Featured image: Wikipedia

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