Heritage and Culture

The Burns Supper: a celebration of the Immortal Memory

The Burns Supper: a celebration of the Immortal Memory
By Kirsty McIntyre

Today, millions of people around the world will gather to celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns. Burns Suppers have been held nearly every year since the first gathering of the poet's friends in 1801.

Traditional Burns Suppers usually follow a set format. A piper will pipe guests into the gathering and the Chair (usually the event host or organiser) will welcome the guests once they are seated. The Supper begins with a grace of prayer - usually the Selkirk Grace. Although often attributed to Burns, it is believe this is because he delivered it at a dinner held by the Duke of Selkirk, as it was already in existence under several other names prior to this.

After a soup starter (usually a Scottish broth, such as cock-a-leekie or Cullen skink), the haggis is brought in. As the most celebrated part of the meal, it is carried to the Chair's table on a silver plate while the piper plays. The Chair will recite Burn's To a Haggis, and upon reaching the line "An' cut you up wi' ready slicht" in the third stanza, will cut into the haggis. It is then traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnip (neeps) - along with Scottish whisky!


The entertainment begins in force after the meal, with readings of Burns' poems and songs interspersed with a series of toasts, celebrating the Bard's life and the guests assembled in his honour. The order of speeches at a traditional Burns Supper is as follows:

The Immortal Memory

The Immortal Memory is a speech given by the event's main speaker, which may or may not include a recital of a piece of Burns' work. It is the most formal reading of the event, a testimony to the life and legacy of Burns, and is followed by a toast to his immortal memory.

Address to the Lassies

Usually light hearted and informal without being offensive, the Address to the Lassies is delivered by a male speaker praising the role of women in the world today - often drawing on Burns' work.

Reply to the Laddies

In the same vein, the Reply to the Laddies is an opportunity for a female speaker to respond, using Burns to praise and poke fun at the gathered men. In some cases both of these speeches are written in collaboration, to make them more humorous and meaningful by referencing the other along with guests present at the Supper.

The evening is closed with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, as the attendees join hands and pay tribute to Robert Burns and the spirit of friendship and feasting.

While this is the traditional order of events, Burns himself had a rebellious streak, as evident in some of his more political writings - so feel free to adapt the traditions to suit your own celebrations. Happy Burns Night!