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Whisky, Haggis, and Poetry: Your Guide to a Memorable Burns Night


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Well, Christmas and the New Year have been and gone, so what’s our next excuse for a party?

Next Thursday, as it happens, Burns Night.

There are many things that Scots do incredibly well. Good food, good whisky, good cheer and good poetry; and Burns Night is a great excuse to celebrate, whether you're a Scot, or not!

Why celebrate Robert Burns?

Born in Ayrshire in 1759, Robert Burns is Scotland's national bard. A massive source of inspiration to the founders of Liberalism and Socialism, the 18th-century writer is known for his astute social commentary and focus on all things political. Scotland’s national poet is considered a revolutionary figure, both in his homeland and beyond.

As well as being an integral part of Burns Suppers, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was a favourite of Union forces in the American Civil War and was also sung by troops in the First World War during the famous Christmas truce of 1914. Together with "Ae Fond Kiss", "To A Mouse", "A Red, Red Rose", "Tam O Shanter", "Address To A Haggis" and many more it's no wonder he was dubbed the “greatest Scot of all time” in 2009.

Even more impressive when you consider that he died at just 37 years old.

The first Burns supper was held in July 1801 when nine of Burns’ close friends got together to mark the fifth anniversary of their friend’s death. Taking place at Burns Cottage in Alloway, the night included a tasty meal (haggis, of course!), performances of Burns’ work and a speech in honour of the great Bard (now known as the Immortal Memory).

The night was such a resounding success they decided to hold it again (this time in honour of Rabbie’s birthday), beginning the tradition we still enjoy to this day.

What are Burns Night traditions?

Piping In The Guests.

Large-scale Burns Night celebrations begin with a piper playing as a welcome to guests. But if you don’t have a piper to perform at your front door as friends and family arrive (and, let’s face it, most decent bagpipe players are probably busy!), some traditional music will work just as nicely.

To get the festivities started, you could offer a whisky cocktail once guests have settled. Something suitably Caledonian, like the Full Scottish Marmalade, would go down a treat.

The Selkirk Grace.

After the host of the evening has welcomed everyone and revealed what the evening’s entertainment will be, The Selkirk Grace is recited. This is a short but important prayer that Burns was said to have delivered at a dinner party, held by the Earl of Selkirk in 1794, and is said before the Supper commences.

Address To A Haggis.

The haggis is the star of any Burns Night meal, and it is usually brought in on a silver platter (or a big, fancy plate) by a procession of people including the chef.

During the haggis’ journey to the table, guests clap in time to the music. Once placed down, the music stops, and everyone takes their seat.

A chosen speaker, esteemed, Scottish or simply brave enough, performs the “Address to a Haggis” with as much gusto as possible, so as not to bore everyone with its eight verses of hard-to-understand Scots dialect.

The haggis is theatrically pierced with a ceremonial knife and then held above the head at the end of the speech. The entire affair is delivered dramatically, being an apology to the haggis itself.


You can guarantee that the whisky will be flowing at any Burns Night Supper. For drinking with the haggis, however, another drink, which the Scots have strong historical links to, makes an equally satisfying match.

The wines of Bordeaux have had favoured status north of the border since the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France began in 1295, with Scots merchants enjoying the pick of the best barrels over their English rivals.

If you’re celebrating at home, and money is not too much of an object, Veuve Clicquot Extra Old Extra Brut NV Champagne is an outstandingly graceful blend of older wines, from a producer with a slightly tenuous Scottish link (you know I love a tenuous link): its oldest existing bottle (an 1893 vintage) was found locked in a cupboard in a castle on the Isle of Mull in 2008.

After the meal, guests usually enjoy sampling a range of whiskies as provided by the host. If, as the host, you want to offer something other than neat tipples, there is a range of great whisky cocktails that are sure to delight guests. You can’t go wrong with classics like a Whisky Sour, Irish Coffee or Old Fashioned.


Entertainment is a key part of any Burns Night celebrations. Often it will be a singer or musician performing Burns songs like A Red, Red Rose or Rantin’, Rovin’, Robin. There may also be moving renditions of his poems such as To a Louse or Tam o’ Shanter.

If you and your guests aren’t up to putting on a concert, there are plenty of wonderful covers available online that you can play and enjoy.

The Burns Night 2021 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and friends (the “friends” being Eddi Reader, Karen Matheson and Robyn Stapleton) is particularly good. As is Eddi Reader's Big Burns Supper with Eddi Reader (obviously), KT Tunstall and many more, both on YouTube.

Auld Lang Syne

Last but not least, the evening culminates with all guests belting out Auld Lang Syne as they join hands and form a circle. If you want to offer one last cocktail to coincide with this, the Bobby Burns is sure to help you finish the night with a flourish.

Get Yer Kilt On!

Kilts are a popular choice at Burns Night Suppers. The kilt is a really flexible outfit and can be formal or informal and traditional or modern. The pattern of the kilt and the choice of jacket, shoes and socks can make a real fashion statement.

The pattern of a tartan is often linked with a Scottish surname but tartans have been designed for cities and businesses too. Some surnames have more than one pattern linked with them, in different colours.

If you don't have a connection with a Scottish name then don't worry, there are no rules stopping you wearing whichever tartan you like.


Try to practice sitting, standing up and even getting in and out of a car

When you sit down make sure the front of your kilt falls between your legs to avoid embarrassment for anyone facing you

When you stand up sweep your hand over the back of your kilt to make sure the pleats are flat

It is a good idea to make sure your sporran is weighted down

Most importantly have fun and enjoy all the attention you will get!

"Sláinte Mhath!"

Stay safe and be kind to each other.

Andi Healey
The Riedel Shop Web Manager

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