Life around the world

Monday, 21 January, 2013 - 00:00

Great Scot! A Burns Night dinner

by Jane Bristow

Each year Scottish people across the world celebrate an unique dinner known as Burns Night. This is to remember a famous Scottish poet called Robert Burns. Traditionally it happens on his birthday, 25 January. Scotland can be very dark and cold at this time of year so it's an excellent reason to enjoy a large dinner with friends and family. Burns is still an important figure in Scotland and even though he died in 1796 at the age of 37, he was recently voted 'The Greatest Scot'. His birthday has become as important as Scotland's national day, St Andrew's Day.

The idea for a dinner started over 200 years ago soon after his death and these days is actually quite a complicated affair, so here's a guide how to have a Burns Night.

To start, people are sat down at the table and the host reads a poem called The Selkirk Grace. It's normally done in a Scottish dialect which even English people find difficult to understand, but here you can find it translated into English as well: Although Burns probably didn't actually write this, he is known to have read it at a dinner. Next, soup is served.

The highlight, though, is listening to a bagpiper playing as the main course of haggis arrives. You might want to watch this clip to see how unique this part is: (it really has to be seen to be believed). Haggis is a special dish made from a mixture of sheep heart, lung and liver and oats, which is a bit like a giant sausage and surprisingly tasty. So tasty, in fact, that Robert Burns wrote a poem about it called Address to a Haggis and you can watch it being performed here along with subtitles translating it into standard English: Once this is finished there's a whisky toast (of course) to the haggis and people can finally eat.

After dinner there's a speaker, who may recite more poetry, and a toast is made to the memory of Robert Burns. Next a male guest makes a funny speech about ladies and a female guest replies with a funny speech about men. Throughout the rest of the night there is even more of Burns' poetry and lots more whisky. As a one-off dinner experience, Burns Night is hard to beat.


Are there any celebrations in your country to remember famous writers? Would you like to go to a Burns Night dinner?

English courses near you