How to celebrate Burns Night in 2021

Burns Night is fast approaching, and it’s traditionally a night of pomp and ceremony, and always something to look forward to.

Nothing will stop us Scots celebrating our national bard, and there’s at least two ways we can get your literary fix with a good dose of fine food and drink. 

January 25 is the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birthday and is celebrated every year with a good old sing-song, a generous serving of haggis and other Scottish flavours. And not forgetting lashings of beer, wine and whisky to wash it all down.

It’s a national event, and hot on the heels of Hogmanay, it’s another chance for a blow-out even if we still haven’t fully recovered from the New Year.

So what can we do to celebrate Burns Night if there are no organised events?

A feast of entertainment

It’s the ceremonial part that will be missing. For anyone who’s been to an organised supper will know, it’s a feast of entertainment as well as food.

While the meal is clearly the main event, the preceding Address to a Haggis, being one of Burns’ best-known works is an event in itself. It’s several verses of ancient Scots and requires an element of rehearsed eloquence.

As one of the few events where you can legitimately wave a blade in a room full of people with a menacing expression, the more animated and outrageous the address is, the more entertaining it is.

But not something you might not do in the confines of your own household, but props to you if you do.

Go online to get the best of Burns

While you can certainly follow the running order detailed below, we recommend you attend an organised online event such as that put on by Poppy Scotland.

Link: https://www.poppyscotland.org.uk/get-involved/things-to-do/burns-night-2021 (external site)

Firstly, the funds will go to a good cause, it’s cheaper than it would have been to attend a real-world event, and they’ll provide an evening of entertainment.

You can still dress for the event, cook the supper and toast the bard over and over, and we think this will become a popular approach, even when things get back to normal.

Supper at home

If you know your Burns, a shortened event at home might suit you best.

The meal part is easy – it’s not particularly difficult to cook a haggis and boiling a turnip and a few potatoes won’t require a cookbook.

Some of the entertainment will be easier than others and Google and YouTube will be a massive help, even if you don’t go for the online event.

Make up your own schedule, have fun and here’s the running order for reference. Treat the evening like a menu and just enjoy the parts you want.

  • Piping in the guests – the piper will play as the guests enter the room, but you can replace this with a pre-recorded track
  • Chairman’s welcome – this is a speech from the host to welcome the guests, depending on the size of your family, you could blend this into the next part
  • The Selkirk Grace – this must be said and is easy to learn
  • Piping in the haggis – you can do this, carry the haggis on a tray at chest height to the sound of the pipes, make a circuit of the table to get the full effect
  • Address to the Haggis – If you know it or learn it, then you’ll enjoy your haggis so much more
  • Toast to the Haggis – as the address ends, all stand and toast ‘The Haggis’
  • The meal – enjoy your supper, but don’t have a main course, recreate the feel of the big day out by having a soup starter (cock-a-leekie), a Scottish dessert and cheeseboard. Don’t forget to accompany it with wine, beer or whisky. Push the boat out and have something special.
  • The after-dinner entertainment is a little difficult for a small household, but gie it a go!
  • Burns works 1 ­– get one of your household to recite their favourite piece of Burns
  • The immortal memory – a summary of the like and works of Robert Burns. Should be finished with, or replaced by, a toast to the ‘the immortal memory of Robert Burns.
  • Burns works 2 – another piece from the Burns anthology. YouTube is your friend here
  • Toast to the lassies – usually a bespoke piece if wit and wisdom celebrating the female contingent.
  • Burns works 3 – the last piece of work by Burns. The benefits of YouTube will get you off the hook here
  • Reply to the Toast to the Lassies – The women, previously toasted, get their ‘right to reply’
  • Vote of thanks – the host thanks all for attending
  • Auld Lang Syne – stand and perform this Burns classic en masse.

So that’s the ‘official’ order of service, and you shouldn’t feel the need to keep it formal. A celebration at home can’t go without some compromise, the important thing is… stay safe, and enjoy the night.

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