Burns Night is a jolly occasion to eat haggis, read poetry and drink whisky, but there is more to it. If you want to go the whole hog here’s a traditional Burns Night order of service, poetry recitals and all
Celebrated on the Bard’s birthday (that’s Robert Burns to the uninitiated), Burns Night is a jolly occasion to eat haggis, read poetry and drink whisky, but there is more to it. If you want to go the whole hog here’s a traditional Burns Night order of service, poetry recitals and all.
- Gathered celebrants mingle, catch up on gossip, pore through their Burns editions, and peruse the whisky selection. The host may make some introductions, assign some readings, or deliver a few opening remarks. This may be a little different this year…
- Welcome Grace Celebrants are called to the table. The host offers an opening grace – traditionally The Selkirk Grace, and the soup course is served.
- Parade the haggis: the evening’s highest moment of pomp. The chef, carrying in the haggis, follows the piper – playing Brose & Butter, or some other appropriate tune – in a procession through the hall. The chef lays the haggis, on its groaning trencher, before the host at the high table.
- Address the haggis: a previously designated reciter reads a poem over the haggis. A ‘guid whisky gill’ is offered to the piper, chef and reciter, and with alacrity the haggis is sliced open with a ceremonial dirk (though any old knife will do). The meal is then served with all its composite courses and copious helpings of guid ale and whisky.
- Interval: after the meal there is a brief interval while the table is cleared or the celebrants retire to another room for the rest of the evening’s festivities. The host needs to keep the guests focused and facilitate the flow of the songs, toasts and poetry that are to follow. Time to refill your glasses!
- Song: a good warm-up for the Immortal Memory. Ask a musically inclined guest or two to sing a Burns song.
- Immortal Memory: the host, or designated speaker, delivers the Immortal Memory address. This should be a serious and careful consideration of the life and art of Robert Burns. It may be a general, biographical sort of speech, or address a specific aspect of the Bard’s work that is relevant to the particular group. This speech should be long-winded enough to remind the guests that this isn’t the office Christmas party, yet not so long as to induce cramping, dry-mouth, or ringing in the ears (about 25 minutes). This speech always ends with standing guests, raised glasses and an offered toast to the immortal memory of the Bard of Ayr.
- Songs, music and readings: Now follow the other poems, toasts, songs and addresses of the evening. Celebrants who have arrived with selections to read take their turn. It always helps if the host has some readings selected for guests who have arrived unprepared. Anything that honours the immortal memory and spirit of the Bard is welcome. These include stories and anecdotes pertaining to Burns and his time, poems and songs by other Scottish poets, and original works composed by the celebrants.
- Toast To The Lassies: this toast should be a light-hearted lampoon of the lassies’ (few) shortcomings. Illustrations from Burns, or from first-hand knowledge of the subject, may be used.
- Reply From The Lassie: always delivered with grace, charm and wit, this savaging of the men is always accepted with good humour by the menfolk present.
- Tam o’ Shanter: No Burns Night is complete without a recitation of the great narrative poem.
- Songs and Poems: The host may play it by ear and keep the readings going as long as the guests are willing. Alternatively, the evening may evolve into a bacchanal of music, song and dancing.
- Closing remarks from the host: When an end to the festivities has finally arrived the host should thank the guests. A few reciprocal remarks, or a toast, may be made by one of the celebrants and a vote of thanks offered.
- Auld Lang Syne: The traditional end to any Burns Night – indeed, an appropriate end to any evening spent among the company of friends. It always helps to have the correct lyrics printed out for the, by now, groggily satisfied guests.