A Special January Supper

Susan here, with thoughts on an upcoming Scottish holiday….

January 25, Burns Night, is just a week away, it's a good time to dust off and refresh an older post about Robert Burns and his special honorary supper tradition – what it's about, Nasmyth burns
and the stages of the dinner. Perhaps you're planning a Burns Night of your own, or you're a bit curious about what’s involved.

Robert Burns was one of Scotland's "favorite sons," a literary hero in this case, a late 18th century poet and songwriter, and Burns Night is a Scottish tradition held on the 25th of January –- or as near as one can get to it – in honor of Robert Burns’ birthday. Not everyone in Scotland, or Scottish descent elsewhere, celebrates Burns Night, yet it’s a widely known annual event in honor of a poet and songwriter, a brilliant, bold mind, a man who wielded a pen like a rebel and a romantic. He authored some of the best known Scottish poems and songs, including the best-known version of Auld Lang Syne.

Born in 1759 and becoming one of the literati of his day, Burns was of the educated upper working class so highly respected in Scotland. He spent much of his life in the Lowlands, chiefly in Edinburgh, and lived through times of revolution and enlightenment in Scotland. His writings helped create a romantic revival of Scottish culture and national pride at a time when the Scots were perhaps at their lowest ebb. He wrote about the noble heart of the Scots and of all mankind—and also wrote some very funny and often very raunchy verses. Burns loved women (literally and often). It’s easy to see why – add charm and a poetic sentiment to those good looks, and it’s no wonder he did well with the ladies.

Nasmyth burns standing
In a larger sense, Burns helped to heal and restore Scottish pride through his songs and poems, uplifting the Scottish spirit in the decades after the Scots took a terrible beating in the devastation at Culloden in April 1746, and the humiliation under the English that followed–including the forbidding of the tartan until 1782. He wrote of Scottish freedom with fire and fervor: Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled /Scots wham Bruce has aften led / Welcome to your gory bed / Or to victorie!

He was well qualified to write romantic love songs and poetry and to his credit, he understood women and respected them as individuals. But he had a roving eye, and said himself that he was "a miserable dupe to love." He fathered several children but married only once, to the patient and generous-hearted Jean Armour. He understood love in all its forms, joyful and sad, frolicking and profound, and though he died too young, still in his thirties, his songs and poetry express emotional richness. 

The first Burns Supper was held by his close friends a few years after his death in honor of Burns’ love of good company and a fine time. Today the format is much the same — various addresses and whisky toasts, the ritual welcoming of the haggis and a series of toasts. Burns is liberally quoted and creative interpretation is encouraged in the spirit of Burns' own rollicking sense of humor.

The stages of the dinner generally follow this format:

thistle
Piping in the guests
– in grand style, with bagpipes if you can find a piper, but a CD will do.

The Selkirk Grace, written by Burns:
Some hae meat and canna eat
Some canna eat that want it
But we hae meat and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit

Piping in the Haggis: the haggis is carried in on a silver platter to bagpipe music, and the whisky glasses are filled in anticipation of lots of toasts. 
Address to the Haggis: the reciting of "To A Haggis"  a long, and very funny, exultation by Burns which begins: Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face / Great chieftain o' the pudden race!

Toast to the Haggis: glasses are raised when the haggis is sliced, steaming hot, and served.

The main course follows — a variety of traditional Scots fare might be served, but usually includes neeps ‘n tatties (turnips and potatoes). 

The Immortal Memory Toast – a fairly substantial address to the memory of Burns, this is often a mix of biography, poetry, and insights and can be funny as well as poignant, and should wrap up with a rousing toast to Robert Burns. Ultimately the address honors the man for his greatness and is sympathetic to his vulnerable side, and appreciates the streak of raucous humor in him too. 

The Toast to the Lassies: one of the male guests stands to address the ladies with a touching, reverent, brilliant…okay often bawdy…tribute to the female gender, and the whisky glasses are raised once again.

The Reply to the Laddies: one of the female guests stands to respond in kind. This can be bawdy, irreverent…and often points out the finer qualities of the male gender.

Then it's time for "Auld Lang Syne," either sung or listened to, and glasses are raised in final toast as the planned part of the festivities wraps up. Often things end with a final toast to Robert Burns, usually with a quote from the great man himself.

Here's one from "Scotch Drink" (Gie him strong drink/until he wink/that's sinkin' in despair), where Burns talks about the virtues of whisky: 
Food fills the wame, an' keeps us livin
Tho life's a gift no worth receivin
When heavy-dragg'd wi' pine an' grievin
But oil'd by thee
The wheel's o' life gae down-hill scrievin
Wi' rattlin glee.

So here's to the wheels o' life, and here's to Robert Burns!

45 thoughts on “A Special January Supper”

  1. I’ve been through a similar evening one year when I was in Scotland around and just after Hogmanay, but the details are a little fuzzy now!
    The 25th is also my father’s birthday, and then the next day is Australia Day, so we’re a bit busy here at that time of year.

    Reply
  2. I’ve been through a similar evening one year when I was in Scotland around and just after Hogmanay, but the details are a little fuzzy now!
    The 25th is also my father’s birthday, and then the next day is Australia Day, so we’re a bit busy here at that time of year.

    Reply
  3. I’ve been through a similar evening one year when I was in Scotland around and just after Hogmanay, but the details are a little fuzzy now!
    The 25th is also my father’s birthday, and then the next day is Australia Day, so we’re a bit busy here at that time of year.

    Reply
  4. I’ve been through a similar evening one year when I was in Scotland around and just after Hogmanay, but the details are a little fuzzy now!
    The 25th is also my father’s birthday, and then the next day is Australia Day, so we’re a bit busy here at that time of year.

    Reply
  5. I’ve been through a similar evening one year when I was in Scotland around and just after Hogmanay, but the details are a little fuzzy now!
    The 25th is also my father’s birthday, and then the next day is Australia Day, so we’re a bit busy here at that time of year.

    Reply
  6. Although I married first a Watson (who was almost certainly of Scottish descent) and than a McCormick (also spelled McCormack in his family) who may be either Scots or Irish, there is nae Scots in me! Some Irish yes, so a touch of Celt, but historically they often disdain each other.
    Still I love hearing of Scots tradition. And I fell in love with both Bobbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott at a very early age. We’ll not be keeping Burns night, be we may remember to cheer on the folk who do.

    Reply
  7. Although I married first a Watson (who was almost certainly of Scottish descent) and than a McCormick (also spelled McCormack in his family) who may be either Scots or Irish, there is nae Scots in me! Some Irish yes, so a touch of Celt, but historically they often disdain each other.
    Still I love hearing of Scots tradition. And I fell in love with both Bobbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott at a very early age. We’ll not be keeping Burns night, be we may remember to cheer on the folk who do.

    Reply
  8. Although I married first a Watson (who was almost certainly of Scottish descent) and than a McCormick (also spelled McCormack in his family) who may be either Scots or Irish, there is nae Scots in me! Some Irish yes, so a touch of Celt, but historically they often disdain each other.
    Still I love hearing of Scots tradition. And I fell in love with both Bobbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott at a very early age. We’ll not be keeping Burns night, be we may remember to cheer on the folk who do.

    Reply
  9. Although I married first a Watson (who was almost certainly of Scottish descent) and than a McCormick (also spelled McCormack in his family) who may be either Scots or Irish, there is nae Scots in me! Some Irish yes, so a touch of Celt, but historically they often disdain each other.
    Still I love hearing of Scots tradition. And I fell in love with both Bobbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott at a very early age. We’ll not be keeping Burns night, be we may remember to cheer on the folk who do.

    Reply
  10. Although I married first a Watson (who was almost certainly of Scottish descent) and than a McCormick (also spelled McCormack in his family) who may be either Scots or Irish, there is nae Scots in me! Some Irish yes, so a touch of Celt, but historically they often disdain each other.
    Still I love hearing of Scots tradition. And I fell in love with both Bobbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott at a very early age. We’ll not be keeping Burns night, be we may remember to cheer on the folk who do.

    Reply
  11. Enjoyed that article Susan. I love Scottish history. Being a Celt myself, (Irish), I do like learning about these things. Would love to try haggis. I’d literally try any food. I’m not a bit fussy. My husband says I have a stomach like an old horse. You can see I didn’t marry him for his charming way with words:).

    Reply
  12. Enjoyed that article Susan. I love Scottish history. Being a Celt myself, (Irish), I do like learning about these things. Would love to try haggis. I’d literally try any food. I’m not a bit fussy. My husband says I have a stomach like an old horse. You can see I didn’t marry him for his charming way with words:).

    Reply
  13. Enjoyed that article Susan. I love Scottish history. Being a Celt myself, (Irish), I do like learning about these things. Would love to try haggis. I’d literally try any food. I’m not a bit fussy. My husband says I have a stomach like an old horse. You can see I didn’t marry him for his charming way with words:).

    Reply
  14. Enjoyed that article Susan. I love Scottish history. Being a Celt myself, (Irish), I do like learning about these things. Would love to try haggis. I’d literally try any food. I’m not a bit fussy. My husband says I have a stomach like an old horse. You can see I didn’t marry him for his charming way with words:).

    Reply
  15. Enjoyed that article Susan. I love Scottish history. Being a Celt myself, (Irish), I do like learning about these things. Would love to try haggis. I’d literally try any food. I’m not a bit fussy. My husband says I have a stomach like an old horse. You can see I didn’t marry him for his charming way with words:).

    Reply
  16. Susan, Thanks for the post.
    I’m sure if I were plied with Scotch and there were enough people around eating it, I would try haggis. I love neeps ‘n tatties.
    My guess is haggis isn’t too different from boudin in southern Lousianna. I’ve tried it and like it, but that was before I knew what it was made of. 🙂

    Reply
  17. Susan, Thanks for the post.
    I’m sure if I were plied with Scotch and there were enough people around eating it, I would try haggis. I love neeps ‘n tatties.
    My guess is haggis isn’t too different from boudin in southern Lousianna. I’ve tried it and like it, but that was before I knew what it was made of. 🙂

    Reply
  18. Susan, Thanks for the post.
    I’m sure if I were plied with Scotch and there were enough people around eating it, I would try haggis. I love neeps ‘n tatties.
    My guess is haggis isn’t too different from boudin in southern Lousianna. I’ve tried it and like it, but that was before I knew what it was made of. 🙂

    Reply
  19. Susan, Thanks for the post.
    I’m sure if I were plied with Scotch and there were enough people around eating it, I would try haggis. I love neeps ‘n tatties.
    My guess is haggis isn’t too different from boudin in southern Lousianna. I’ve tried it and like it, but that was before I knew what it was made of. 🙂

    Reply
  20. Susan, Thanks for the post.
    I’m sure if I were plied with Scotch and there were enough people around eating it, I would try haggis. I love neeps ‘n tatties.
    My guess is haggis isn’t too different from boudin in southern Lousianna. I’ve tried it and like it, but that was before I knew what it was made of. 🙂

    Reply

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