Burns Night is Upon Us

Brief History

Many may not have heard of Burns Night, that takes place around the 25th January, generally in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Burns Night is based around the Romantic Poet, Robert Burns. It is a celebration of his life and work as he was the author of many Scot Poems.



The first Burns Night Supper was held in Ayrshire at the end of the 18th Century by Robert’s friends on the anniversary of his death. 21st July, they have been a regular occurrence since.

The first Burns Supper Event was held on what was thought to be Robert’s Birthday, 29th January 1802. However in 1803 it was discovered in the Ayr Parish records that his birthday was actually on 25th January and therefore Burns Night moved.


Even though they are most popular in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Burns Night Suppers can be held anywhere where there are Burns Clubs.

They may be formal, or informal. The informal suppers generally include haggis, Scotch Whisky and the recitation of Burns’ poetry.

The formal dinners are hosted by organisations, and occasionally end with dancing when ladies are present. However all formal dinners follow a general standard format….


Order of the Formal Supper


1) The host says a few welcoming words and the event is declared open.


2) After the guests are seated, grace is said. It is usually the Selkirk Grace. This is a well-known thanksgiving said before meals using the Scots language.

3) The supper is then started with the soup course.


4) When the Haggis is brought in everyone stands. It is always on a large dish and is brought in by the cook. Generally a piper plays bagpipes and leads the way to the host’s table.


5) The host (or guest with talent) then recites the Address to a Haggis. (A copy of the poem is below)


6) At the end of the poem a scotch whiskey toast is made and everyone goes on the enjoy the meal which is generally served with neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes).


7) After the desert, cheese and coffee/whisky courses more core speeches and toasts are made.


8 ) A host gives a short speech, remembering some of Burns poetry or aspects of his life.


9) There is a Toast to the Lassies – thanking the women who prepared the meal.


10) Then the Toast to the Laddies – a reply to the Lassies toast.


11) After the speeches the work of Burns may be sung, and poems read out. This goes on for as long as the guests wish.


12) At the end of the evening (to which the host calls halt) everyone stands, joins hands and sings Auld Lang Syne.


Address to a Haggis


Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm :
Weel are ye wordy o’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 sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony 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 make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?


Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody 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’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!


Dress Code


Formal or informal, the Scottish dress code has not changed that much over time.

It consists of a black barathea jacket with silver buttons and a matching or tartan waistcoat. The traditional kilt with a white shirt and shirt studs, French or barrel cuffs and a turn-down classic collar. Also a black bow tie or white lace jabot are needed. Evening dress brogues and full dress kilt hose are worn with silk flashes or garter ties. A dress sporran with a silver chain and a black, silver mounted sgian dubh with the option of wearing a dirk.


(Quick explanations)

Barathea – the Jacket worn with a kilt or tarten trousers, it could be cut away at the front and usually has silver buttons.
Jabot – a delicate item worn near the throat. Similar to a piece of jewellary.
Brogues – Shoes
Sporran – the Pouch worn around the waist.
Silver Mounted Sgian Dubh – A small knife, traditional to the Scottish dress.
Dirk – A long thrusting dagger. (Recognised for the Scottish Highland Regiments)



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