No country favours its poets the way Scotland favours its most celebrated wordsmith – Robert Burns. Burns’ birthday, the 25th of January, is celebrated widely as Burns Night every year in Scotland and consists of elaborate meals accompanied by readings of Burns works as well as a tribute to the great poet. What began as a simple tradition on Burns’ fifth death anniversary has now evolved into a cultural festival of worldwide importance. And like all great festivals of the world, Burns night too has its own set of rituals and customs.
Burns Night is all about Burns’ Supper, an elaborate dinner party held across various parts of the country. Hosts and guests are usually dressed in traditional Scottish attire with the kilt being the natural favourite. Festivities kick off in true Scottish tradition with a piper piping the guests and welcoming them with typical Scottish tunes.
Grace is said in the Selkirk Grace fashion and the first course of the meal usually consists of soup. Up next is the star of the night – Scotland’s national dish, the Haggis. Naturally all the guests stand up as the cook brings in the haggis and a piper plays the bagpipes usually to the tune of Robbie Burns Medley. Burns’ famous Address To A Haggis is recited by the host following which a whiskey toast is made to the haggis. Then and only then do the guests finally dig in.
As the meal draws to a close, a speaker usually regales the audience with a either an emotional or humourous story about Burns’ life. A number of toasts are made followed by something known as an Address To The Lassies. This involves the men giving a speech about the women and finally toasting to their health. In turn the women reply with their Reply To The Laddies which gives women the chance to put forward their point of view. These speeches are meant to be humourous and are usually made in good spirit.
And finally, no Burns Night would be complete without a reading of the great poet’s works.
Burns Night is an important day not only as the celebration of one man’s life but also the celebration of an entire culture. The impact of Robert Burns works has been such that an entire culture has come to associate themselves with his life, to the point where Burns has become synonymous with the culture of Scotland. And yet, Burns Night is so much more than just the celebration of a people, it has become the celebration of a set of ideals upheld by Burns and the whole of Scotland.