How to Celebrate Burns Night

TOAST’s guide to celebrating Burns Night

Burns Night is fast approaching! The annual whisky-soaked celebration of the life, works and spirit of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Here, TOAST takes a look at the life of the man himself and, with the help of Andy Waugh from Scottish restaurants Mac & Wild, we dish up a tasty guide to celebrating a traditional Burns Night.

Robert Burns, also known as ‘Rabbie Burns’, the ‘Bard of Ayrshire’ and the ‘Ploughman Poet’ was a spirited poet and lyricist, and widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. He was born on the 25th January 1759 – hence why Burns Night suppers take place on (or around) the same date every year.

In his youth, Burns worked on the family farm and grew up in poverty and hardship. Despite this, his father encouraged his early interest in literature and poetry and so when the hard, physical labour of the farm took its toll, Burns turned his attentions fully towards the passions of poetry, nature, drink and women, which would go on to characterise the rest of his somewhat colourful life...

Much of Burns' poetry was based on his own situation and experiences, and was always filled with sparkling wit and humour; living conditions were extremely harsh, yet Burns was always able to see humour in his situation. Whether his subject was a man or a mouse (or even a louse!) he had a rare talent for expressing life's complex emotions.

From traditional ballads and romantic songs, to witty satires and philosophical poems, Robert Burns composed some of the world's most recognisable lines - Auld Lang Syne is often sung at Hogmanay and at New Years Eve celebrations around the world, and Scots Wha Hae served for a long time as an unofficial National Anthem of the Scotland.

In just 18 months, Burns had spent nearly all of the wealth from his published poetry, so in 1789 he went to work as an Excise Officer in Dumfries. The hard work this new job entailed combined with the effects of his previously raucous lifestyle began to take its toll, and Burns died on 21 July 1796 aged just 37. After his death, Burns became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism.

Today, the life, work and incredible spirit of this remarkable man are celebrated every year in Scotland and beyond, in the form of Burns Night – a celebration more widely observed in Scotland than the official national day, St Andrews Day! Burns Night celebrations are usually centered around the Burns Supper – filled with traditional Scottish food, drink, verse and music. 

Someone who knows a thing or two about this quintessentially Scottish celebration is Andy Waugh, founder and owner of gourmet Scottish restaurants Mac & Wild, who grew up in the Highlands.

“Burns Night is all about haggis, whisky, poems and more whisky. What else is there to know…?! he laughs.

There is a format, as it were, and many fun and eccentric traditions that should be followed when hosting your own Burns Night supper at home. Here is TOAST’s guide to doing just that, with some of Andy’s expert top tips.  

How To Host Your Own Burns Night Supper 

Set the Scene 

Give your table a Scottish edge with these beautiful wool tartan napkins from the Scotland Shop, which come in over 500 different types of traditional tartan. Match with a tartan tablecloth or table runner for maximum impact.

Make sure that there is plenty of glassware on the table, like these specially designed whisky glasses from Glencairn, or treat yourself to LSA’s Islay Connoisseur Set which contains a stylish selection of tumblers, a jug and decanter presented on a hand-finished, solid walnut tray, designed to echo the maturation of single malts in aged wooden casks.

Islay LSA

Image: Glencairn set of 6, £24.95 The Whisky Exchange,  LSA’s Islay Connoisseur Set, £300,  

Print off the lyrics to various poems and songs written by Robert Burn and place a few at each guests’ place at the table. Popular readings and songs include: To a Mouse, A Bottle And Friend, Scotch Drink, Anna, A Red, Red Rose, To A Louse, and Tam o' Shanter .

Essential lyrics which the official Robert Burns website provide(more on this below) for the evening include;

For a traditional spread, Ralph Lauren’s Duke Dinner Set with its classic plaid pattern and elegant gold trim can be stacked to create a stunning table setting for your feast. 

If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, Scottish homeware suppliers Anta have a contemporary variety of Scottish stoneware products in traditional tartan patterns that will set your table off perfectly.

Ralph Lauren Duke Dinner Set

Ruaridh Waugh Tableware

(Image: Ralph Lauren Dinner Set, Ruaridh Waugh Tableware)

For a stylish splash of Scotland around the home then why not hang a few of We Are Scamp’s laser cut pennant flags around? Each flag bears an uplifting Scottish phrase and comes with either a vibrant neon pink or on-rend yellow suedette cord. We love ‘Gie It Laldy’ - directly translated as ‘give it your all’ or ‘give it some welly’ - perfect for Burns Night!

We Are Scamp

Bespoke signs from £12.50 We Are Scamp

Finally, keep things stylish in the kitchen (and when serving this haggis perhaps…) with this beautiful tartan cotton apron by Scottish textile designer Gillian Kyle, adorned with a mighty Scottish Stag!

And if you want to look the part yourself for the gents, a kilt is a must – and the Scottish Kilt Company have a wide range to offer and for the ladies, take a look at Joyce Young who has brought her Scottish heritage to the fashion world with Tartan Spirit Couture, a range of flamboyant designs using the finest quality silk, wool tartans and Harris Tweed. 

For a final touch, make sure your guests keep warm and cosy up with these dark maple blankets from the Tartan Blanket Co, perfect for wrapping up infront of the fire ready for the poetry and Scottish music.

Tartan Blanket Co Dark Maple Tartan

Order of the Supper 

A traditional Burns Night supper always follows a certain format; when hosting your own at home you don’t have to tick every box, but including at least one or two of these traditions will add real authenticity and a good splash of Scottish fun to your supper;

Piping in the guests

At big Burns suppers the evening starts with a bagpipe player greeting the guests, whilst they gather and mix. At less formal gatherings traditional Scottish music is played.

For true authenticity and true Scottish wow factor you can hire a bagpipe player for the night; Bagpipes For Hire are a collection of specialist highland pipers from pipebands across the UK and Ireland. Many of their bagpipers come from a military background so can perform in full uniform and kilt, adding a truly authentic and memorable element to your Burns Night event.

Prices vary, but you can find them Bagpipes For Hire’s page in TOAST’s Little Black Book for more information.


Alternatively, head over to YouTube for this fauthentically Scottish bagpipe soundtrack, which will add the highland atmosphere to your Burns Night bash! 

Welcome and the Selkirk Grace

Once guests have arrived traditionally the host then says a few words welcoming everyone to the supper, and stating the reason for it. This is followed by the Selkirk Grace, a well-known thanksgiving said before meals, in the Scottish language;

Some hae meat an

canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit

The Feast

Traditionally, a Burns supper starts with a soup course; normally a Scottish soup such as Scotch broth potato soup, cullen skink or cock-a-leekie is served, but the real star of the show is of course Scotland’s National dish – Haggis. Haggis is a traditional Scottish savoury pudding, made from diced sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasoning all encased in the animal's stomach (a historic way of preserving meat), although artificial casing is now often used instead. It may sound strange, but the general opinion is that it’s delicious!

Traditionally, after the Selkirk Grace has been read out, all guests should stand as the haggis brought in on a plate, behind a piper playing the bagpipes (this is called ‘piping in the haggis’). Burns's famous ‘Address to a Haggis” is then read and the haggis is cut open and served. You can find the address here.

At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be offered to the haggis by the host (or cook) before everyone tucks in.

I hate to be stuck in my ways but I have to insist you eat haggis on Burns!” says Andy. “And it’s best to buy it from your local butcher. Having said that you could also get stuck into a veggie haggis if the original doesn’t tick your boxes. The veggie version is honestly seriously tasty!” says Andy.

You can pick up a vegetarian haggis from any big supermarket or online from Ocado, or if you’d prefer to make your own you can see Felicity Cloake’s recipe here. 

Both should be served with the traditional neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes).

Whichever version you go for – why not serve it up on Hunter Gatherer’s stylish Wooden Burn's Night Haggis Serving Plate, engraved with the opening lines from the all important ‘Address to a Haggis’ (just in case you forget to the print them off!).

Haggis Serving DishPrice from £16, Not on the Highstreet

For a modern day haggis twist why not try Mac & Wild’s delicious recipe for Haggis Pops – over on The Edit now, as well as another brilliant recipe for Nairn’s Burns Night Haggis, Neeps and Tatties Canapés!

Haggis Pops Pouring Macwild

A Wee Dram

When your guests arrive why not serve a Scottish-inspired whisky cocktail? You can find Mac & Wild’s recipe for their Bobbie Burns cocktail over on TheEdit now, complete with shortbread biscuit garnish!

Make sure you have enough Scotch whisky to sink a ship!” laughs Andy. You can get your hands on The Forager, Mac and Wild's very own Old-Fashioned-style cocktail made with Glenkinchie 12 Year Old, foraged pine leaf tincture, double infused heather honey and barrel-aged bitters. Best served chilled.

Mac Wild Whiskey Cocktail Pouring

As part of your Burns Night supper you could also host your very own Scottish whisky tasting - you can see TOAST’s guide with Whisky expert Chivas Regal’s UK Ambassador Phil Huckle here.

Wine can also be served as an alternative. I would also suggest Scottish Craft Beer; in our restaurants we work alongside The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland who have some great Scottish craft beers.” says Andy.

For more Scottish brews you could also try the Best of British Beer’s Bonnie Scotland case, which contains 12 bottled beers created by award winning breweries from north of the border.

Craft Beer Clan Scotland(Image: Craft Beer Clan Scotland) 

Toasts, speeches and poetry

A Burns Night supper should be filled with various toasts and speeches (in a Scottish accent, of course); poems and songs written by Burns should be randomly read out, by any guest who gets the urge! Make sure you have a selection printed out and dotted around the table (you can find them all here).

Some important toasts to remember include;

  • Immortal memorythis should be a speech about an aspect of Burns' life, or poetry. It may be light-hearted or serious and may include a poem or song by Burns. The speaker (usually the host) concludes with a heart-felt toast: “To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!”

  • Toast to the Lassiesas we know Burns loved the lassies, and this toast is designed to praise the role of women in the world today with wit, humour and maybe a bit of cheek. Particular reference to any lassies present makes for a more meaningful, humorous toast. The toast concludes: “To the Lassies!”

  • Reply to the Toast to the Lassies - Revenge for the women present as they get their chance to reply!


Finally, the host will give the vote of thanks to thank everyone who has contributed to a wonderful evening (or they can ask a guest to do it instead), after which everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Robert Burns’ famous Auld Lang Syne, bringing the evening to an end. You can find the lyrics here

Mac & Wild's Burns Night Supper Tips

  • Make sure you address the haggis and celebrate the beautiful food.

  • People should read out works of Burns and keep on drinking whisky – your best Scottish accent comes out with more whisky you drink.

  • Make sure you have at least one Scottish dish on the menu

  • Toast to the Lassies 

  • You don’t have to wear a kilt, but it is encouraged!

  • Don’t expect an early night

  • The main thing is to have fun and do something a little different. Get your friends together and have some fun!



For more information about Mac & Wild take a look at TOAST’s recent Spotlight interview with owner and founder Andy Waugh, over on TheEdit now. 


Posted in Inspire Me

by Inspire Me
on on 24 January 2017

  burns night

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