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Burns Supper
Date: January 25th

The life of Scotland’s greatest poet has been celebrated in Scotland for more than two hundred years. It is thought that the first Burns Supper was held by friends of Robert Burns not long after he died, to recognise his birthday and pay tribute to his achievements. Burns Suppers can be either formal or casual affairs and can involve any number of people, from a small group of
friends to a gathering of more than one hundred people. The basic format varies little, the pomp and ceremony with which it is carried through very much depends on the formality of the circumstances. First and foremost a Burns Supper should be full of fun and wit.

Suggested Burns Supper Menu

Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Bannocks
Cullen Skink
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Cranachan
Sherry trifle

(Choice of starter and dessert for a Burns Supper can vary, but haggis is essential. You can also try a few
Whisky Mixed Drinks )

Arriving guests at a Burns Supper should be offered a drink, whisky is traditional, but wine is acceptable. Once the party has assembled at table, the evening should proceed as follows:

1. Chairman’s welcome.

2. Grace — The Selkirk Grace (see below)

3. After the first course has been cleared away the haggis is ‘piped in’ that is, carried to the table by the chef, who is accompanied by a piper playing a stirring tune.

4. The chairman, or another elected speaker, gives the Address to the Haggis. (see below). The address should be given with enthusiasm and the speaker should have a knife beside him, ready to plunge into the haggis at the
appropriate moment in the poem:

‘An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch.’

When the address is over, the guests toast the haggis with whisky.

5. After the address, the haggis, neeps and tatties are served to the guests.

6. When the meal is over, the chairman, or another elected speaker, makes the first speech The Immortal Memory. The speech should pay tribute to aspects of the life and work of Robert Burns.

7. The Toast to the Lasses. This should be a light-hearted tribute to ladies present and may recall some of the many women in the bard’s own life. It may be delivered in prose or rhyme. It should be humorous and may be teasing, but it should not be unkind.

8. The Lasses Response. An elected female member of the party takes the opportunity to make a witty reply to the Toast to the Lasses, either in prose or in rhyme.

9. With the formalities of the evening over, the rest of the night is generally spent enjoying the songs and poems of Burns, performed by volunteers from among the guests.

The Selkirk Grace

Although the Selkirk Grace is commonly attributed to Robert Burns, it is likely that it was in use before he wrote it down.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Address To a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn they stretch an' strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scronful' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs, an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow's wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae shinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if you wish her gratefu' pray'r,
Gie her a Haggis!*

* This stanza was originally written out as follows:-
"Ye Pow'rs wha gie us a' that's gude
Still bless auld Caledonia's brood,
Wi' great John Barleycorn's heart's bluid
In stoups or luggies;
And on our boards, that king o' food,
A gud Scotch Haggis!"

The Burns Supper

At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be proposed to the haggis. Then the company will sit and enjoy the meal. The main course is, of course, haggis, and is traditionally served with mashed potatoes and mashed turnip. A dessert course, cheese courses, coffee, etc. may also be part of the meal. The courses normally use traditional Scottish recipes.

When the meal reaches the coffee stage various speeches and toasts are given. In order the core speeches and toasts are as follows.

The Loyal Toast
The host proposes a toast to the health of the monarch (or to the leader of the country if it is not a monarchy).

The Immortal Memory
One of the guests gives a short speech, remembering some aspect of Burns' life or poetry. This may be light-hearted or intensely serious. The speaker should always prepare a speech with his audience in mind, since above all, the Burns' supper should be entertaining.

A toast to Robert Burns is drunk.

Toast to the Lassies
This was originally a short speech given by a male guest in thanks to those women who had prepared the meal. However nowadays it is much more wide ranging, and generally covers the male speaker's view on women. It is normally amusing but should never be offensive, particularly bearing in mind that it will be followed by a reply from the "Lassies" concerned.

A toast to the women's health is drunk by the men.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies
Like the previous toast this is generally quite wide ranging nowadays. In it a female guest will give her views on men and reply to any specific points raised by the previous speaker. Like the previous speech this should be amusing but not offensive. Quite often the speakers giving this toast and the previous one will collaborate so that the two toasts complement each other.

A toast to the men's health is drunk by the women.

Other toasts and speeches
These may follow if desired. It is not unusual to toast the locality or nation in which the supper is being held. It is also quite common to propose a toast to Scotland but there is no fixed list of subjects, so this is very dependent on circumstances.

Work by Burns
After the speeches, there may be singing of songs by Burns, Ae Fond Kiss, Red, Red Rose, A Man's a Man, etc; and more poetry, To a Mouse, To a Louse, Tam O' Shanter, The Twa Dugs, Holy Willie's Prayer, etc. This may be done by the individual guests or by invited experts. It goes on for as long as the guests wish and may include other works by poets influenced by Burns, particularly poets writing in Scots. The only rule is to give the audience what they want.

Dancing
There may occasionally be Scottish country dancing, if the venue allows, but this is not a normal part of a Burns supper.

In Closing
Finally the host will wind things up, calling on one of the guests to give the vote of thanks, after which everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne which brings the evening to an end.

Return To Robert Burns Biography



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