A celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, Burns Night is held each year on his birthday, and typically includes a formal dinner, recitation of Burns’ poetry, toasts, speeches, music, and dancing. It is traditionally celebrated in Scotland and by Scottish communities around the world.
History of Burns Night
Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist and is celebrated for his contributions to Scottish culture. Burns was born January 25th, 1759, in Alloway, Scotland, and was the oldest of seven children. His father was a poor farmer, and Burns received little formal education. Despite this, he became well-versed in literature and was an avid reader from a young age.
Burns began writing poetry at an early age, and his first book of poems, “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,” was published in 1786. His poetry was characterized by its strong sense of place, its use of colloquial language, and its celebration of ordinary people and their lives. Burns’ most famous works include “A Red, Red Rose,” “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” and “To a Mouse.”
In addition to his poetry, Burns also wrote songs, many of which have become traditional Scottish folk songs. He is also known for his translations of folk songs from other languages. Burns’ work has had a lasting influence on Scottish literature and culture, and he is celebrated as a national hero in Scotland.
The first Burns Night was held on July 21st, 1801; the fifth anniversary of Burns’ death. It was organized by Burns’ friends and fellow poets, who wanted to honor his memory and celebrate his work.
Over the years, Burns Night has evolved and taken on many different forms. Some celebrations are formal and traditional, while others are more casual and modern. However, the basic elements of the celebration have remained the same, and Burns Night continues to be a popular and enduring tribute to the life and work of Robert Burns.
How to Celebrate Burns Night
Burns Night is typically celebrated with a formal dinner, called a Burns Supper, which includes haggis as the main course. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish made from sheep’s offal, mixed with oatmeal and spices, and cooked inside a sheep’s stomach. The dinner may also include other Scottish dishes, such as Cullen skink (a soup made from smoked haddock).
During the dinner, there are also a number of traditional ceremonies and rituals that are performed. These may include:
- The Selkirk Grace
A prayer said before the meal, which is traditionally attributed to Burns.
- The Address to a Haggis
A poem recited by the host or another guest, which was written by Burns and celebrates the haggis as a symbol of Scottish culture.
- The Toast to the Lassies
A speech given by a male guest, in which he thanks the women in attendance for their contributions to the evening.
- The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies
Given by a female guest, in response to the Toast to the Lassies.
- The Toast to the Immortal Memory
A speech given by the host or a guest, in which they pay tribute to Burns and his contributions to literature and culture.
Other common elements of Burns Night celebrations may include speeches, dancing, and music. Some celebrations also include a cèilidh (a traditional Scottish dance party), as well as traditional Scottish music played on instruments such as the bagpipes or the fiddle.