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Burns supper

A Burns Supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns, author of the version of the Scots song, Auld Lang Syne, which is generally sung at Hogmanay and other New Year celebrations around the world. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet's birthday, the 25th of January, sometimes known as Burns Night, although they may in principle be held at any time of the year. The first suppers were held in Ayrshire at the end of the 18th century by his friends on the anniversary of his death, the 21st of July, In Memoriam and they have been a regular occurrence ever since. They may be formal or informal but they should always be entertaining. The only items which the informal suppers have in common are haggis, whisky and perhaps a poem or two. However the formal suppers, which are often held by Burns clubs follow a standard format which is as follows.

Table of contents
1 Start of the Evening
2 The Host's welcoming speech
3 The Entrance of the Haggis
4 The Supper
5 The Loyal Toast
6 The Immortal Memory
7 Appreciation
8 Toast to the Lassies
9 Reply to the Toast to the Lassies
10 Other toasts and speeches
11 Burns Work
12 Dancing
13 In Closing

Start of the Evening

Guests gather and mix as in any informal party.

The Host's welcoming speech

The host says a few words welcoming everyone to the supper and perhaps stating the reason for it. The event is declared open.

Everyone is seated at the table(s) and grace is said, using the Selkirk Grace

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

The supper then starts with the soup course. Normally a Scots soup such as Scotch Broth, Potato Soup or Cock-a-Leekie is served.

The Entrance of the Haggis

Everyone stands as the main course is brought in. This is always a haggis on a large dish. It is brought in by the cook, generally while a piper plays bagpipes and leads the way to the host's table, where the haggis is laid down. The host, or perhaps a guest with a talent, then recites the Address To a Haggis

Address To a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit" hums.

Is there that o're his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect scunner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whistle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thristle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

If the poem is being recited with any sense of drama or humour at all, then at the line His knife see rustic Labour dicht the speaker will normally raise a knife, sharpening it menacingly, and at the line An' cut you up wi' ready slicht, plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly this "ceremony" is a highlight of the evening.

The Supper

At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be proposed to the haggis. Then the company will sit and enjoy the meal. The main course is, of course, haggis, and is traditionally served with mashed potatoes and mashed turnip. A dessert course, cheese courses, coffee, etc. may also be part of the meal. The courses normally use traditional Scottish recipes.

When the meal reaches the coffee stage various speeches and toasts are given. In order the core speeches and toasts are as follows.

The Loyal Toast

The host proposes a toast to the health of the monarch (or to the leader of the country if it is not a monarchy).

The Immortal Memory

One of the guests gives a short speech, remembering some aspect of Burns' life or poetry. This may be light-hearted or intensely serious. The speaker should always prepare a speech with his audience in mind, since above all, the Burns' supper should be entertaining.

A toast to Robert Burns is drunk.


The host will normally say a few words thanking the previous speaker for his speech and perhaps commenting on some of the points raised.

Toast to the Lassies

This was originally a short speech given by a male guest in thanks to those women who had prepared the meal. However nowadays it is much more wide ranging, and generally covers the male speaker's view on women. It is normally amusing but should never be offensive, particularly bearing in mind that it will be followed by a reply from the "Lassies" concerned.

A toast to the women's health is drunk by the men.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies

Like the previous toast this is generally quite wide ranging nowadays. In it a female guest will give her views on men and reply to any specific points raised by the previous speaker. Like the previous speech this should be amusing but not offensive. Quite often the speakers giving this toast and the previous one will collaborate so that the two toasts complement each other.

A toast to the men's health is drunk by the women.

Other toasts and speeches

These may follow if desired. It is not unusual to toast the locality or nation in which the supper is being held. It is also quite common to propose a toast to Scotland but there is no fixed list of subjects, so this is very dependent on circumstances.

Burns Work

After the speeches, there may be singing of songs by Burns -- Ae Fond Kiss, Parcel O' Rogues, A Man's a Man, etc -- and more poetry -- To a Mouse, Tam O' Shanter, The Twa Dugs, Holy Willie's Prayer, etc. This may be done by the individual guests or by invited experts. It goes on for as long as the guests wish and may include other works by poets influenced by Burns, particularly poets writing in Scots. The only rule is to give the audience what they want.


There may occasionally be Scottish country dancing, if the venue allows, but this is not a normal part of a Burns supper.

In Closing

Finally the host will wind things up, calling on one of the guests to give the vote of thanks, after which everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne which brings the evening to an end.
Burns suppers are most common in Scotland but they occur where-ever there are Burns clubs, expatriate Scots, or indeed lovers of Burns' poetry.