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January 16, 2018

Burns Night: A (Brief!) Running Order

Burns Night robert burns

Burns Night is fast approaching and with it the cause for much celebration. Every year the Burns Supper is an opportunity for Scots to celebrate the life and works of their national bard: Robert Burns (frequently called Rabbie Burns).

Taking place on 25 January – the famous poet’s birthday – people come together for poetry readings, haggis, toasts and more than a few drams of whisky. Burns Night gatherings can range from the informal all the way through to full-blown formal dinners. It is a tradition that has endured well over 200 years!

Up for your own celebration? Here is a typical Burns Supper running order. Music and poems at the ready!

Piping in the Guests

For big-time Burns Night occasions, it is usual for a piper to play as guests arrive and mingle. Once all the high table guests are ready to be seated, the playing stops and a round of applause is due. At informal gatherings, playing traditional Scottish music does just as nicely.

Welcoming Speech

Once seated but before food commences, the host says a few words welcoming guests to the supper. It is then time for all to recite the Selkirk Grace – a well known prayer usually spoken in Scots:

Some hae meat an canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.

Piping in the Haggis

After an optional soup course, it is time for the evening’s star attraction: the Haggis! It is usual for guests to stand as this traditional savoury pudding, a luxury in Burns’ time, is brought into the room with much aplomb. A piper will generally play the bagpipe as the cook carries the haggis on a large silver platter through the room. Clapping along to the music as the haggis procession makes its way around the room is commonplace, only ending when the haggis is finally placed upon the host’s table.

Address to the Haggis

An honoured reader, most often the host but occasionally a guest, now recites the all-important Address To A Haggis one of Burns’ most famous and regularly recited poems. It is an esteemed position to make the address and the reader should have their knife poised at the ready. It is custom upon speaking the line “His knife see rustic Labour dicht/An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht” to sharpen the knife and plunge it into the haggis, cutting the dish from end to end. At the final line, “Gie her a haggis!“, the reader should raise the haggis in triumph, a cue for the guests to break out in rapturous applause. Finally, all the guests will join a whisky toast to the haggis, before getting stuck in.

Burns Night dinner

The Meal

Customarily, the steaming haggis will be served with neeps and tatties (swedes and potatoes) as the main course. Variations do exist of course: sometimes the haggis will form the starter, followed by another hearty main dish instead (often pie or roast meat). Vegetarian haggis can be on hand for meat-free diners, while Cullen Skink – a creamy, think soup made with haddock – is a fish alternative. A steamed Clootie Dumpling is a frequent dessert as is Tipsy Laird (whisky trifle), while lashings of wine and ale help wash everything down.


Content and full of food, it’s time for a sing-song and some poetry. At larger occasions, musicians and singers may perform a selection of Burns’ famous songs such as Ae Fond Kiss or Rantin’, Ravin’ Robin, although it’s just as fun for individual guests or groups to perform songs and poetry. Favourite poems include Tam o Shanter, To A Louse and Holy Willie’s Prayer. Interludes of poetry and singing often break up the remaining stages.


Various toasts and speeches are due after the first round of entertainment. It is time for the main speaker to return to the spotlight to deliver a speech on the life and times of Robert Burns. Funny, heartfelt or somewhere in between, the speech often includes recitations of his work and frequent referrals to his nationalism and importance to Scottish literature. A heartfelt toast follows: To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!

One of the more unusual highlights of a Burns Night supper is the Toast to the Lassies, delivered by a male guest in honour of the women. Traditionally this was thanks for the women who had prepared the meal, but it is now more often used as an opportunity to praise the female guests and the general role of women in the world today. A Reply to the Laddies gives the opportunity for the women to respond. Both speeches are usually light-hearted and humorous, with the two parties sometimes conferring beforehand to ensure their respective toasts complement each other.

Vote of Thanks

After a heady night of delicious food, drinks-a-plenty and celebratory recitals, it is time for the host to thank their guests for another wonderful evening.

Auld Lang Syne

The evening closes with all guests taking to their feet and joining hands for a belting (if slightly tipsy) rendition of Auld Lang Syne – another Robert Burns masterpiece.

Happy Burns Night everyone, and enjoy your haggis, neeps and tatties!

Love the One Day Team x

P.S. If it’s a school celebration you’re after, our Rabbie Burns: “Wee, Sleeket, Cow’rin, Tim’rous Beastie” workshop is full of Scottish history!



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