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Burns Night: Wtf is it? And how can you throw your own?


What’s Burns Night? For Scots, it’s one of the most important dates of the year: a celebration of a rich and storied culture. But for many of us around the world, it’s something that pops up at the top of our phone calendars on the 25th of January, and makes us think ‘huh?’

Well, live in ignorance no longer, reader. Scroll to discover everything you need to know about Burns Night…including how to thrown your own traditional supper.

Ok…who was Robert Burns?

Put simply, Robert Burns was an 18th Century Scottish poet and lyricist. He was pretty prolific, too: penning over 500 poems and songs before his death in 1796. But the man also known as Rabbie Burns and the Ploughman Poet is so much more than that. He’s widely regarded as Scotland’s National Poet (basically what Shakespeare is to England, Burns is to Scotland), and is celebrated across the world as a Scottish icon, credited with making the Scots dialect more accessible.

Think you don’t know this guy? Think again. You know Auld Lang Syne? The song everyone drunkenly sings one intelligible line of at the NYE countdown? Yep, that’s Rabbie.

You may also know his “Tam o’Shanter,” “Scots Wha Hae” (which was often regarded as Scotland’s unofficial national anthem), and “A red, red rose“. Start listening to his work and you’ll realise why he’s such an icon.

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So Burns Night is like…a celebration of his poetry?

Well yes, and no. Burns Night celebrates the life and work of Robert Burns, so to do it properly you’ll need to raise a glass to the great man and recite his most famous works. But such is Rabbie’s eminence within Scottish culture, Burns Night is also a celebration of everything traditionally Scottish. We’re talking Haggis, Whisky, bagpipes, the works…

So there’s a reason it’s also called “Burns Supper”?

Correct! And the centrepiece of supper is the iconic haggis, of course. This savoury pudding is formed with sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), onion, oatmeal, suet, spice and stock. Doesn’t sound appetising? Burns himself called it the ‘graet chieftain o’ the puddin’ race,’ so suck it up: you can’t have a proper Burns Supper without it. And it’s actually tastier than you’d think…

What else?

We’re glad you asked. You can start the meal off with a Scot’s broth (a rich soup with barley, braised meat and pulses), and for desert you can try a Clootie Dumpling, a steamed pudding made with dried fruit and spices. Yum.


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And what about a wee dram?

Whisky (without the ‘e’), is of course if the drink of choice here. Otherwise known as scotch, in gaelic it translates as the ‘water of life’, and has been made in Scotland for at least 5 centuries.

Today, Scotland has 109 distilleries that produce some of the finest drops in the world, matured in Oak Casts for at least 3 years. Each region, from Islay to Speyside, offers its own unique flavour and characteristics, so maybe try a few drops to see if you like your dram ‘malty’, ‘smoky,’ or ‘peaty’.


And what should I wear?

Tartan, naturally! In Scotland, tartan kilts are worn on formal events during Burns Night or Hogmanay. But if you don’t fancy getting your legs out in January, a hat or scarf will suffice. Tartan patterns are linked to Scottish surnames, but don’t worry if you don’t have one of those – you can simply wear which tartan you like best.


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