You don’t need to be Scottish to celebrate Robert Burns or hold a supper in his honour. A Burns supper is a way to celebrate the life and work of the famous Bard and usually takes place on or around 25th January, but it’s also a great excuse to gather together family and friends for a good old knees up.
The celebrants gather and mingle, catch up on gossip, and peruse the whisky selection. The chairman or host may make some introductions among the guests, assign some readings, or deliver a few opening remarks.
The Selkirk Grace
The celebrants are called to the table, the host offers an opening grace - traditionally The Selkirk Grace - and the soup course is served. A Scotch broth or cock-a-leekie would be a traditional Scottish choice.
Parade of The Haggis
The parade of the haggis is the evening’s highest bit of pomp. The chef carries the haggis in, followed by the piper. The chef lays the haggis before the chairman at the high table.
Address to a Haggis
A previously designated reciter reads this poem over the haggis. A guid whisky gill is offered to the piper, chef and reciter. The haggis is then sliced open with the finely honed edge of a ceremonial dirk (though any old knife will do).
The meal is then served - Haggis, Neeps and Tatties is the definite favourite and a wee bit of whisky sauce if you’re feeling adventurous. See a selection of popular Burns supper recipes here.
After the meal there is a brief interval while the table is cleared or the celebrants retire to another room for the rest of the evening’s festivities. The chairman needs to keep the guests focused and facilitate the flow of the songs, toasts and poetry that are to follow. Time to refill your glasses!
A good warm-up for the Immortal Memory, a musically inclined guest, or two, may sing a Burns song.
The chairman, or designated speaker, delivers the Immortal Memory address. It may be a general, biographical sort of speech, or may address a specific aspect of the Bard’s work that is relevant to the particular group of assembled celebrants. This speech always ends with standing guests, raised glasses and an offered toast to the immortal memory of the Bard of Ayr.
Songs, Music and Readings
Celebrants who have arrived with selections to read take their turn entertaining the others. (It always helps if the chairman has some readings selected for guests who have arrived unprepared or who may need a little encouragement.)
A Toast To The Lassies
A traditional Burns Night ritual, this toast should be a light-hearted lampoon of the lassies’ (few) shortcomings. Warning: Please be tactful! Think groom’s speech at a wedding, a few funny anecdotes is sufficient alongside plenty of praise!
Reply From The Lassies
Always delivered with grace, charm and wit, this savaging of the lads’ crude dispositions and social inferiority is always accepted with good humor by the menfolk present.
Tam o’ Shanter
No Burns Night is complete without a recitation of the great narrative poem.
Closing Remarks From The Chairman
When an end to the festivities has finally arrived the chairman should thank the guests for their attendance, good cheer and high spirits.
Auld Lang Syne
The traditional end to any Burns Night - indeed, an appropriate end to any evening spent among the company of friends - is the singing of this sentimental Scottish song. It always helps to have the correct lyrics printed out for the, by now, groggily satisfied celebrants.