Burns supper on Burns Night: haggis, neeps 'n' tatties (swedes and potatoes) rounded off with a drink of beer or drams of Scotch whisky
Burns Night celebrates the life and poetry of Scottish poet Robert Burns
(January 25, 1759 to July 21, 1796). It is an institution of Scottish life that is held annually on his birthday, January 25
. Dinner events, called Burns Suppers
, are held on (or close to) this date in Scotland and wherever the very substantial number of Scottish migrants and their children have settled in the world, especially in Northern Ireland, Canada, the United States and Australia.
The evening follows a very ritualised routine. Guest are greeted by a bagpiper on arrival and mingle as at any informal party. Then the chairman (usually the host/organizer) welcomes the guests, everybody is seated at the dinner table and grace is said.
The meal is always the same: soup, followed by the main course of haggis with turnip and potatoes ("neeps and tatties"), and a trifle for dessert. After the soup and before the haggis is served, it is ceremoniously carried on a platter by the cook, accompanied by a kilt-clad piper ("piping in the haggis"), to the host's table, where the host (or the landlord of the restaurant where Burns Night is being celebrated) recites the Burns poem The Address to a Haggis
. At the words An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
("And cut you up with practiced skill,") in the third stanza, the haggis is cut open so that the innards spill out and spread all over the serving platter.
Even though haggis is traditionally a meat dish made of sheep's innards (heart, liver and lungs mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt), in recent decades, vegetarian and even vegan alternatives have become available.
After the poem, a whisky toast is proposed to the haggis and the meal starts. The haggis is served with "neeps" (turnips/swedes/rutabagas) and "tatties" (potatoes), followed by a trifle for dessert, and finishing with a cheeseboard with oatcakes and tea/coffee.
After the meal, a series of speeches and toasts are made, according to a ritualised order. The Immortal Memory
is a memorial speech to Burns, typically with literary tributes to selected poems and a reference to contemporary politics and morals. At the Address to the Lassies
, a selected man may wickedly tease the women before dedicating a toast to them. To this, one of the women may respond in a similarly teasing tone in the Reply to the Laddies
. In between, poems and songs by Burns are recited and sung. The evening is finished with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
Burns Night is part of a season of Scottish winter festivals that includes St. Andrew's Day
on November 30 in honor of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, Hogmanay
(Scotland's New Year celebrations) on December 31 and Burns Night on January 25.
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