Burns Night: Celebrating Robbie Burns night and Scotland’s National Bard

by W. Andrew Powell

Burns Night celebrates the life of Scotland’s National Bard, Robbie Burns every January 25th, and there are so many ways that you can toast and celebrate the great poet.

Around the world a lot of bars, restaurants, and groups celebrate the evening, and you can join in at home, or find an event near you.

The legendary poet, who wrote “Auld Lang Syne”, is celebrated usually with whisky, haggis, and reciting some of his works. If you’re not sure how best to enjoy the night, read on for a few of the best ideas to get started in real Scottish style.

Plan your Burns Night

A Burns Night event at Casa Loma in Toronto with Johnnie Walker
A Burns Night event at Casa Loma in Toronto with Johnnie Walker

Before you start, there are a lot of resources to learn more about the bard, and how to celebrate Burns Night, but one of the best is Visit Scotland’s Burns Night Guide. You can also check out RobertBurns.org for another guide on how to plan your night.

Next, you may want to consider how you want to celebrate. Do you want to go out, or recreate Burns Night with your own dinner, drinks, and poetry? Or maybe a bit of both.

There are a lot of options if you want to participate in Burns Night. If you want to enjoy a really authentic evening and you’ll be in Scotland, Visit Scotland has a list of events happening in Glasgow and beyond.

In Canada, the Scottish Society of Ottawa is hosting a Burns Supper with virtual entertainment. You can find more information on their website.

You can also do a Google search or Facebook Events search to find Burns Night events anywhere around the world.

Prepare the menu

If you’re cooking at home, tatties, neeps, and haggis are the traditional fare for Burns Night, since they’re classic Scottish food. That means mashed potatoes, turnip or rutabaga, and haggis–a savoury pudding made with oats, sheep’s pluck, and spices.

Of course, you can get creative, but if you go with the traditional approach, the hardest part will be finding haggis. In Canada a number of grocery stores and meat shops carry frozen haggis, like MacSween. When in doubt, call or order ahead since Haggis tends to sell out at a lot of stores around Robbie Burns Day.

For tatties and neeps, you can prepare them separately, or Jamie Oliver has a good recipe for making them together.

Or, some Scottish restaurants are offering orders for pickup. In Toronto, for instance, The Caledonian previously offered a Rabbie Burns Night meal kit. Check with your favourite local restaurant or bar to see what they’re offering and book ahead as these often sell out early.

What to drink

Bowmore Scotch

Outside of the haggis, one of the most important parts of Robbie Burns Day is the whisky. If you’re a traditionalist, Scotch is a must, but I think you can toast with any whisky. There are also lots of ideas for alcohol-free drinks to toast the Bard.

If you’re sticking with whisky though, there are dozens and dozens of excellent options. You don’t always need to spend a lot of money for a great whisky, but there is nothing quite like a fine whisky, all the same.

Here are a few of my favourite whiskies:

Read Robert Burns’ poetry

At the heart of what made Robert Burns so popular around the world is the bard’s incredible writing. He was a prolific author, and today he’s still celebrated in Canada, the United States, Japan, and beyond. His work is referenced in everything from film, television, books, and music, and even Abraham Lincoln was a fan.

For a serious deep-dive into the bard’s poems and songs, RobertBurns.org has all 559 of his works, and you can even browse them in chronological order.

Scotland.org has a wonderful collection of Burns’ most notable works too, including “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”, “Ae Fond Kiss”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “To A Mouse” and “A Red, Red Rose”, “Tam O’Shanter”, and of course, “Address To A Haggis”.

Robert Burns
Robert Burns

“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!

Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy o’a grace

As lang’s me arm.”

— Address To A Haggis

The Music

Finally, bagpipe music is very traditional for Burns Night, and Spotify or Apple Music have a number of albums, and playlists to help liven up your evening.

Spotify, for instance, has This Is Robert Burns, a collection of 29 songs and readings, including “Address To A Haggis” by Gordon Kennedy.

For easy listening, Traditional Scottish Folk offers a more relaxed mood, but for proper Scottish bagpipe music, it’s hard to top Bagpipes and Drums of Scotland. Or if you’re looking for a more modern mix of pop and rock music, there’s Made In Scotland.

Learn more about traditional Scottish music.

Happy Burns Night!

Enjoy, have fun, and slàinte mhath!

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