A Guide to Celebrating Burns Night

Thursday 14th January 2021
Christmas might be over, and lockdown restrictions may be tightening, but there are still a few things to get excited about this month.

One of these is Burns Night, a much-loved Scottish tradition which takes place on 25th January.

Edinburgh Skyline

What exactly is Burns Night?

If you’re partial to some haggis or love reading poetry aloud, Burns Night is definitely a Scottish tradition you should get behind. It’s named after Robert (or Rabbie) Burns – one of the nation’s most famous authors. Often called Scotland’s “Bard”, he lived during the 18th century and wrote many famous poems, including the popular New Year’s Eve ditty, Auld Lang Syne

Burns Night takes place on the anniversary of his birth and is a celebration of his life and numerous creative works. It tends to involve various fun and festive traditions which you can easily embrace from the safety and comfort of your own home. 

Burns Night traditions

Reckon Burns Night is something you’d like to celebrate in 2021? No matter where you live in the UK, it’s easy to organise your own festivities at home with your household. Here’s a few elements you may want to include (wearing tartan clothing is definitely encouraged):

The delicious Burns supper

Food is undoubtedly one of the high points of any Burns Night. Most people tend to eat a very traditional Scottish meal of haggis (both meat or veggie versions are available), neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). As a starter, you might enjoy a bowl of cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek) or even some smoked salmon.

Burns Night Supper

Love desserts? There’s a couple of classic Scottish puddings up for grabs on Burns Night. Cranachan (a blend of oats, cream, raspberries, honey and whisky) is one delicious option, while clootie pudding (a heart-warming steamed pudding made with dried fruit and spices) is another. When it comes to drinks, well, what else would you sip on but whisky?

Addressing the Haggis

Thought you read that wrong? Nope, addressing the haggis (the centrepiece of any Burns Night supper) is one of the event’s most important features. It’s usually done by the host and involves reading Rabbie Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis. The piece is an ode to the dish and should be recited before it’s served (ideally followed by a toast of whisky).


Reciting Rabbie Burns poetry

With your belly full of food, it’s time to turn your attention to your Burns Night entertainment. As the celebration commemorates a prolific author, it’s only right that you recite some of his best poetry! 

Traditionally, every member of your party (or, in this case, your household) should select a poem and read it out loud. Well-known picks include A Red, Red Rose, the Selkirk Grace and My Heart’s in the Highlands

Another fun option, which may take a little bit of prep time, are the hilarious Toasts to the Lassies and Laddies. This usually involves the men in the group writing a short address to the ladies (if it rhymes, even better) and for the ladies to recite back a witty response. You can make up your own toasts or research some existing ones online. 

Ceilidh dancing

After you’ve eaten and had a few drams of whisky, you might want to clear away the furniture and have a little dance. Ceilidh dancing is a tradition in both Scotland and Ireland and it’s brilliant fun, especially for kids!

Man and woman dancing with two children in the living room

Popular Ceilidh dances you could try are Strip the Willow and the Virginia Reel. If you’ve not got the space though, why not listen to some bagpipe music or have a sing along to Auld Lang Syne instead?

Where to pick up a Burns Night feast 

While only essential travel is allowed at the moment, that doesn’t mean you can’t order a takeaway from one of your local restaurants. Here are a few places in some of Scotland’s biggest cities on the TransPennine Express network that are doing Burns Night themed feasts:

Wedgewood The Restaurant
Treat yourself to a takeaway Burns Night celebration box from one of Edinburgh’s top Scottish restaurants. Award-winning Wedgewood The Restaurant has been serving up mouth-watering grub since 2007 and this year you’ll be able to tuck into a five-course feast featuring things like whisky-cured smoked salmon, venison and haggis meatloaf, and clootie dumpling brownies. Prices start at £140 for two people and it’ll even be delivered for free!

Byron Burger
You can order a slightly more unorthodox Burns Night supper from Byron Burger. The national chain’s Scottish take out venues have some amazing locally-inspired burgers, including the “Auld Smokey” option. Its name subtly hints at one of Rabbie Burns’ most famous works, plus it contains a layer of haggis. There’s also the option of a side of haggis loaded fries!

Live Virtual Whisky Tasting Masterclass
If you’re happy to make your own Burns Night meal, why not combine it with an online whisky tasting too? Hosted by whisky writer and expert Felipe Schrieberg, you’ll take part over Zoom and enjoy six different varieties (including one premium whisky). You’ll be sent the drinks in advance and tickets start at £39.

If you can’t find a local restaurant that’ll deliver a Burns Night meal, it’s easy to make your own at home. There are plenty of haggis brands in the supermarket, including delicious options which are totally meat-free for vegetarians and vegans.

Remember, if you do need to travel at the moment try to book your tickets in advance, avoid peak times and follow COVID-19 safety procedures onboard.

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