Heritage and Culture

A Toast to the Haggis

A Toast to the Haggis
By Sophie

On the 25th of January, Scots around the world come together to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet. Robert Burns had a rare talent for expressing life through others' shoes and composed some of the world's most recognisable lines of poetry and song. His words have been cherished and recited for the past two centuries, in examples like promising to 'tak a cup o' kindness' with our neighbours as the new year bells chime.

Born in 1759, Burns lived a short life, dying 37 years later of an illness that, sadly, could have been easily treated by modern medicine. In his short life, Burns built a large catalogue of literature, that has been enjoyed and celebrated for over 200 years. His ability to put himself in the shoes of those from all walks of life is what makes his work so inspiring and relatable to such a large audience.

Coming from a humble background, Burns was born to poor farm tenant parents and was the oldest of seven children. Although the family had money troubles, his father still understood the importance of education. Along with working on the farm, he made sure that his children were still given the opportunity to read and learn.

Signs of Robert Burns's talent were clear from a young age. At 15 he penned his first love poems, however it wasn't until the age of 27 that he rose to fame, when he published his first collection of poetry. 'Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect' is a collection that made a huge impression on Edinburgh's literary elite, propelling Burns to celebrity status.

Personal Life

Burns married Jean Armour and together they had nine children.

He dedicated hundreds of lines of verse to women and fathered 12 children altogether. A proud Scot, he spent many years collecting and preserving traditional Scottish songs for the future.

Although he gained fame for his work, Burns never forgot his roots with his love for farming staying with him throughout his life. He would often refer to the poorer classes and the issues they had to face, highlighting the need for greater social equality.

How to Celebrate Burns Night

If you've ever wondered how to celebrate Burns Night, then look no further! We'll keep you right with our schedule of events.

Piping in the guests

The night begins with a piper to welcome the guests to your Burns dinner. If you don't have access to a set of bagpipes, playing traditional Scots music is a baggage-free option. At more formal events the piper would play until the high table is ready to be seated, at which point a round of applause is due, however at some events the banging of a chair on the table is a way to show your guests that the evening has begun.

Chairman's Welcome

Once everyone is seated, it is time for you to welcome your guests and introduce the evening's entertainment, as well as introduce all the guests to each other.

The Selkirk Grace

The Selkirk Grace is a short, but important prayer that is read to usher in the meal. Also known as 'Burns's Grace at Kirkcudbright. Although the text can be easily found in English, it is usually recited in Scots.

Piping in the Haggis

As the start attraction of the dinner, guests normally stand to welcome the haggis. This is normally delivered on a silver platter by a procession comprising of the chef, the piper and the person who will address the haggis. A Whisky-bearer would also circulate to ensure that all glasses are topped up for all toasts throughout the night.

During the procession, guests clap in time to the music, until the Haggis reaches its destination at the table. The music then stops and everyone is seated in anticipation.

Address to the Haggis

As the honored reader holds his knife poised at the ready, he should recite his rendition of "To a Haggis'. During the line 'His knife see rustic labour dight' he should cut the haggis along the length of the casing, making sure that the tasty filling spills out.

*Tip* it is wise to make a small tear in the haggis before it is piped in to avoid the cutter being scalded.

As the reciting comes to an end, the reader raises the haggis in triumph as he says 'Gie her a haggis!'. This is normally met with applause from the other guests.

Toast to the Haggis

Prompted by the reader, the guests now join the toast to the haggis. As they raise their glasses, cries of 'the haggis!' ring out. As the main course is served, it is accompanied by its traditional companions, neeps and tatties.

The Meal

A traditional Burns Night dinner should consist of Cock-a-leekie soup to start. Haggis, neeps and tatties would follow as the main course and for dessert a serving of Clootie Dumpling would follow. As if that wasn't enough, a cheesboard with bannocks (oatcakes) and tea or coffee is then served.

If you want a taste of haggis, but are more of a beef lover, some people like to serve haggis as the starter, then move on to roast beef or steak pie for the main. If you are vegetarian, there are vegetarian haggis options available, while pescatarians can opt for a seafood main such as Cullen Skink.

The Drink

Wine or ale should be served liberally with dinner. It is often customary to douse the haggis with a splash of whiskey sauce, or neat whiskey if you want to do as the Scots do.

The First entertainment

As the meal comes to an end, entertainment follows. Burns songs are sung or poems recited to keep the guests entertained. Burns songs to choose from include 'My Luve is like a Red Red Rose', 'Rantin', Rovin' Robin', 'John Anderson, my jo', or 'Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever'. Poems to chose from include, 'Tam o' Shanter', 'Holy Willie's Prayer', 'To a Louse', or 'Address to the Unco Guid'.

The Immortal Memory

After the first entertainment, the host would normally speak about the life of Robert Burns. The speech should paint a colourful picture of Scotland's beloved Bard, talking of his literary genius, his politics, his highs and lows and, of course, his nationalism.

The speaker should then conclude with a heart-felt toast shouting, 'To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!'.

The Second Entertainment

The second entertainment introduces more celebration of Burns' work, which would usually compliment the earlier entertainment.

Toast to the Lassies

There is a bridge between a serious tone and wit throughout the Burns Night celebrations, and the Toast to the Lassies is one of the more humorous points in the night. This praise to the women of the world today should be done by selective quotation from Burns's work and should build towards a positive note. Mentioning those present creates a more personal toast and the conclusion should involve the shouting of 'To the Lassies!'.

The Final Entertainment

The final entertainment of the night usually consists of more Burns readings.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies

This part of the evening gives the women present, time to get revenge in their reply to the Toast to the Lassies. This would normally consist of the female host addressing the contents of the earlier Toast to the Lassies, answering it with thanks to the men of the world today with some witty comments in there too. The purpose of this toast is to keep the evening light, but to thank the males in our lives whilst keeping them on their toes.

Vote of Thanks

The host of the evening should take this time to thank everyone who has contributed to a wonderful evening.

Auld Lang Syne

The evening ends with guests standing and holding hands in a circle as they belt out 'Auld Lang Syne'.

Our schedule is a typical Burns Night, with some parts appropriate for a more formal evening than would be necessary for a supper. There are a number of extras that can be added, such as a ceilidh, a quiz or a reading of one of Burns's lost manuscripts.

Check out the Scotweb Tartans facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Scotweb for ideas on Burns Supper recipes.

Whichever way you wish to celebrate Burns Night, there is no better feeling than knowing that Scots and Burns lovers alike are joining in celebration with you to remember our beloved Bard.

From all of us here at Scotweb, we wish you a Happy Burns Night, whichever way your celebrating.