Burns Night is a celebration of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, who was born on 25 January in 1759.
Apparently the first Burns suppers were held in Ayrshire (Burns’s home county) at the end of the 18th century, by his friends after his untimely death at the age of just 37 years old. But they’ve spread far beyond, to all corners of Scotland and throughout the Scottish diaspora. Arguably the Scots abroad are more likely to attend Burns suppers than those in Scotland!
Burns suppers can be informal or formal, but as a minimum they’re likely to involve haggis, whisky and the Bard’s poetry to some degree. The formal occasions usually involve a speech to the “Immortal Memory” of Burns, which may be academic or light-hearted; a Toast to the Lassies, and a Reply; and, above all, the piping in of the haggis and the Address:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
Of course, haggis isn’t to everyone’s taste. (Those who’ve read Meg Dod’s prize-winning recipe might understand why.) And we’ve heard that genuine Scottish haggis now has to be smuggled in to the USA because the FDA have banned it for its offal content following the BSE scare of the late 1980s and 1990s. (The fact that BSE was virtually unknown North of the Border is neither here nor there, of course. Something else to blame the Sassenachs for.)
But if you’re not fond of sheep’s pluck and paunch, there’s always the vegetarian option. Macsween got there first commercially, and theirs is very good. But you can make your own, too – you can find a good recipe on our sister site, Not Delia. (You’ll also find the Vegetarian Society’s recipe on there, but we wouldn’t recommend it – our attempt went straight into the bin after the first taste.)