What makes a Burns Supper?
would argue that there are strict guidelines and observances that must
be followed to create a "true" Burns Supper. Whilst in practice
this may be true for the most dedicated Burns celebrations, it may not
be wholly representative of a modern society comprising those who would
rightly choose to celebrate Robert Burns, their Scottish Culture &
Heritage in a less formal manner.
The first recorded Burns celebration was held in July 1801 on the anniversary of his Death comprising a group of friends and acquaintances. Later the date was to change to the evening of the anniversary of his Birth (25th January) and would become "Burns Night" with the focal point being the "Burns Supper" These gatherings were the origins of the Celebration of Burns as seen today. Similarly, Robert Burns would now be celebrated on St. Andrews Day, and at any other social occasion in the Calendar, for those with a link to Scottish Heritage.
Many of the long standing Burns Suppers are strictly "men only" affairs reflecting the historic nature of the celebration, and this is no doubt a proud tradition that will continue. Increasingly however, many organised Burns Suppers are "mixed company" which is helping to introduce more women to Burns and brings a greater social balance to the proceedings. (Do I hear howls of derision from the Burns purists?) The "all male" domain has been diluted so much over the years that women now play an important role in the Burns Supper, giving balance & female perspective through their toasts, recitals and song .. not to mention the vast improvement in the visual content !.
So what is the purpose of a Burns Supper?
In simplistic terms, a Burns Supper is one of the most celebrated events in the Scottish cultural calendar, not just here in Scotland but throughout the entire world. Whilst some of the component parts of a "Burns Supper" are used in other Scottish cultural celebrations, like St Andrews Day celebrations, "Tartan Day" events, Caledonian Society gatherings etc, the true Burns Supper follows a common agenda, specific to the celebration of the life, works & cultural heritage of Robert Burns. In addition, as Robert Burns has evolved over more than 200 years to become an icon of Scotland & Scottish identity, the Burns Supper is also an important celebration of Scotland itself. The main objective of a Burns Supper therefore is to celebrate the memory of Robert Burns and your Scottish heritage.
What are the principle components of a Traditional Burns Supper?
The following is a broad list of the key elements of a Burns Supper:-
The Running Order.
Chairman's Welcome:- The Chairman welcomes everyone and introduces the top table guests , speakers & entertainers.
Selkirk Grace (prayer before meal) :- A small, but none the less important part for someone to carry out, with a rendition of The Selkirk Grace
"Piping in The Haggis":- Chairman asks the guests to be upstanding to receive the Haggis. The piper (or to the accompaniment of appropriate music) leads a small procession comprising, the Chef, presenting the Haggis on a silver platter; the person who will "Address the Haggis"; and sometimes a third person carrying a tray with a "tot" of whisky for each in the procession to "toast" the Haggis. During the procession, the guests clap in time to the music until the Haggis reaches its destination at the table. The music stops and everyone is seated in anticipation of the Address to the Haggis !
The Address to the Haggis:- The appointed person now gives a resounding and animated recital of the Address to a Haggis . At the appropriate time (during the line "An cut you up wi ready slight" meaning "and cut you up with skill") the speaker takes his knife, and with a great flourish, cuts the length of the haggis, "trenching its gushing entrails" (digging its innards) in a visible and dramatic fashion. The recital concludes with the speaker presenting aloft the Haggis in triumphant praise during the final line "Gie her a Haggis!" (Give her a Haggis!) The assembled audience applaud.
Toast to the Haggis:- The Speaker now asks the audience to share in a toast to the Haggis. Everyone, including the other members of the procession stands and raises their glass to "The Haggis!" The Piper once again begins to play and leads the procession, bearing the "cut" Haggis, out of the room in readiness for the meal. Again the audience clap in time to the music until the procession has left.
The Meal:- The meal is now served (usually with appropriate background music).
The "Bill O Fare" (menu) comprises "Cock-a-leekie" Soup,(an old Scottish recipe); The main course of "Haggis wi bashit neeps an' champit tatties" ( Haggis, mashed turnip/swede and mashed potatoes); Sweet course of "Clootie Dumplin" (Dumpling pudding prepared in a linen cloth or "cloot") or Scottish trifle; Final course of "Bannocks an Cheese" (Traditional Scottish Oatcakes and cheese board) finishing off with Coffee or Tea. Other variations exist and often the Haggis, Neeps an Tatties are served as a starter, with a main course of a Beef dish or Steak Pie. A custom has also developed where a "wee splash of Whisky Sauce", (which is straight whisky) is poured over the haggis giving it added flavour. Wine is often served with the meal and of course generous quantities of the finest Scottish malt whisky is consumed after the meal.
First Entertainer:- The Chairman introduces the first entertainer which could be a singer, a Burns recital, or musician. Favourite recitals include Tam O Shanter - Holly Willie's Prayer - To A Louse - A Man's A Man For A' That. Songs include My Luve Is Like A Red, Red Rose - Rantin, Rovin Robin - John Anderson, My Jo - Ae Fond Kiss
The Immortal Memory:- The Chairman introduces the keynote speaker who delivers a passionate speech on the life of Robert Burns during which he might inform the audience of Burns's great contribution to literature, of his Nationalistic pride in Scotland, his politics & principles, his humanity, his failings and his triumphs. This speech is normally both witty & humorous yet delivered with serious content and comment in praise of Burns. The objective is to give a rounded and informed but positive appraisal of Robert Burns, Scotland's most famous Son, National Bard, and representative of Common Man. The speech concludes with an invitation to the audience to join the speaker and raise your glass to drink a toast to "The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns"
Second Entertainer - Further appropriate entertainment.
Toast to "The Lassies" - Always a very humorous part in the proceedings where a toast is proposed to "The Lassies" (Women) . The object of this toast is to deliver a speech about the importance of women in our lives, drawing reference to Burns, the women in his life, his attitudes and views on Women, and concluding on a complimentary and positive note. At "male only" celebrations, the content is often a bit more "pointed" than if it were "mixed company", exaggerating the male chauvinist view of women in a very funny way. During "mixed company" celebrations, this is clearly toned down a little, still humorous, but much more complimentary. Either way, the challenge is to deliver a balanced witty and sincere toast which concludes with the speaker inviting all the men of the company, to stand and raise their glasses in a toast "To the Lassies"
Third Entertainer - suitable entertainment as before.
The "Reply" to the Toast to the Lassies - In mixed company, a woman will prose a suitable "reply" to the previous toast.. thanking the speaker on behalf of the women for his "kind" words! Again, this will be humorous, using reference to Robert Burns and the women in Burns's life. This is a chance for the women to "get their own back" on the men! Again, the challenge is to find a balance between humour and sincerity concluding on a suitably positive note.
Vote of Thanks - A short speech thanking everyone who has made the event a success, from Chairman to Chef etc.
Auld Lang Syne - The Chairman concludes the evening by asking everyone to stand and join in a robust rendition of the famous song "Auld Lang Syne" The company join hands and sing together. At the line "And here's a hand etc" .everyone's hands are "crossed in front" re-joining the hands of the people on either side. (Hope you follow that!)
do I organise my own less formal Burns Supper?
in my house!
Firstly of course, you need to arrange where
it will be held. You certainly do not need a large house, unless of course
you are inviting a few hundred people! If you have a dining room
if not, simply clear some space in an appropriate room and set up your
table there. Foldaway bench tables do just fine and can be covered with
a suitable tablecloth. Nothing much more is needed, although you may wish
to try and decorate the room in a suitable manner, (candles, tartan, heather
etc) to add to the mood
many people are needed?
To be honest, not that many people are needed .its up to you. A small group of 8 or 10 friends makes for a superb evening of fun. If your home can hold 20 then why not .or equally 4 to 6 people can easily share in the Burns celebration. So do not let numbers be an issue!
needs to be organised?
one end of the spectrum, you should plan your guest list and decide which
will be asked to contribute through providing a short speech,
toast, song or recital. Alternatively, you do not have to go to this extent.
Simply enjoy your Burns Supper meal, play some appropriate music, and
read out a few lines from a book of Burns poetry. Remember, there are
no rights or wrongs
and dont let people tell you otherwise
.Its Your Burns Supper!
being said, the more of your guests who get involved, the better the event
will be. Often, some people will feel embarrassed about their role, and
no one should be forced into it. If they do make a mess of it
.youre all friends after all! Remember the golden rule
Fun! Try and plan the event well in advance to allow your guests to prepare.
Tell them to visit us here at The World Burns Club for information and
assistance. Finally, you need to organise the meal itself
people will tell you
.preparation of this very special meal is quite
We are aware that unless you live here in Scotland, getting the truly
authentic Scottish ingredients for your Burns Supper can be a problem.
Of course, here at the World Burns Club, we have thought of that, and
offer you a complete solution with our authentic Burns Supper package
which can be found in the Burns shop.
should be the Agenda?
best as possible, follow the running order of the traditional Burns Supper
(described earlier in this article), and include as many of the component
parts as possible. However, change it to suit your preferences.
As host, you could be Chairman (or chairwoman). If you are unable to have someone carry out the The Immortal Memory, simply propose the toast alone and miss out the speech. If none of your friends plays the bagpipes! .play a recording of Scottish music. If no one can recite a poem from memory .read it! If you do not know how to pronounce the words in Burns writings dont worry ..just give it a go. You do not need to develop Sean Connerys accent or employ Mel Gibsons voice coach. Ive heard recitals by Japanese and French people .and its brilliant that they give it a go! It all adds to the fun. So whether The Selkirk Grace is spoken slowly in a Texan accent the address to the Haggis recited rhythmically by a good ol New Yorker . My Luves Like a Red Red Rose presented in delicate Australian or Tam OShanter in French Canadian ..it's just great!
a minimum, all guests should wear clothes!
.although a naked Burns
Supper might add an interesting dimension! (photographs please) If you
want to enter into the spirit
.go for full Highland Dress
tuxedos and cocktail dresses with the odd tartan bow tie, heather buttonhole,
or tartan sash. Jeans and t-shirt are just fine too. Its what you do,
and the fun you have, that is important.
do it at all!
this question after your event. I bet it will be one of the most pleasurable
evenings of fun youve ever had! Your friends will talk about it
for years to come. It will probably become an annual event! In addition,
you may just learn a little more about that truly remarkable man, Rabbie
Burns, and that is important for us here at The World Burns Club. Whether
you are a beginner or an expert, we can all learn more about Robert Burns,
and in doing so, enrich our lives. Join in the greatest celebration of
Scotland, Scottish culture and proud Scottish heritage.
a great time !
.and please write and tell us about your event
us your pictures too! Also, feel free to discuss this topic in the Discussion
by Mac at the World Burns Club Jan 2000