Burns Supper

Burns Suppers have been part of our culture  in Scotland for about 200 years. It is the time that we commemorate the birth of our beloved and famous Poet, the great Rabbie (or Robert) Burns.  He was born on 25th January in 1759 in Alloway,  near Ayr on the west coast of Scotland and he died when he was only 37 years old on 21st July 1796.

He wrote hundreds of poems and songs and left a huge legacy for the people of Scotland.   One of his poems, 'The Address to the Haggis' has become immortalised and is now a central part of a Burns Supper.  The first Burns supper was believed to have been  in July of 1801 to mark the anniversary of his death.  It was held in Alloway when a group of Rabbie's friends got together.

It was on this occasion that some of the traditions with which we associate with Burns Suppers today, were started, such as the menu of  Haggis as the main course (and whisky, of course) and the reading of his poem "Address to a Haggis".

Burns Suppers have developed over the years, and nowadays Scots, and those with an affinity to Scotland, have developed the tradition of celebrating Burns Night with a traditional 'Burns Supper'.  Sometimes the supper is a formal affair,  while other folk who just love Burns' Work will gather with some friends to celebrate.

Burns Suppers are of course just one of the many traditions we have in Scotland. Hogmanay is also very famous and we also celebrate Christmas in our own unique way as well as Valentine's Day, as well as St Andrews Day.

If you can't get Haggis anywhere, you could try making my 'Pretend Haggis'.

This popular recipe and plenty more can be downloaded in my handy ebook, simply save to your phone and take with you everywhere! Each beautifully illustrated recipe tells a story and will both teach and entertain you. Click here to find out more.

Burns Supper - cartoon of a piper


The Supper Format

  • The first thing is that there must be a chairperson, who will give the 'Opening Address' with some welcoming words.
  • Prior to the commencement of the supper, Rabbie Burns' Famous Selkirk Grace will be prayed.
  • The guests all  stand to welcome the haggis.
  • A piper then comes in, followed by the chef, who slowly and ceremoniously carries the haggis to the main table.
  • The guests  participate in this ritual  with a slow handclap.
  • The chairman or perhaps another invited guest formally and enthusiastically  recites Rabbie's  famous poem To a Haggis.
  • When he reaches the line 'an cut you up wi' ready slight', he cuts open the haggis with a sharp knife.
  • The speaker is applauded and everyone stands and toasts  the haggis with a glass of whisky.
  • The Supper will commence. (Below is the most famous Grace by Burns, but if you want an alternative grace have a look at the Grace before Dinner page.)

Selkirk Grace
by Robert Burns

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.

Burns Supper 1 - picture of a haggis


The Menu

Cock A' Leekie Soup (served with homemade bread or rolls & butter)

Haggis serves with Champit Tatties and Bashed Neeps

(to see how to cook this - go down to further down the page)

Tipsy Laird (whisky trifle)

or the famous


Fruit and Cheese and Biscuits

A Tassie o'Coffee


Burns Supper 3 Tipsy Laird Trifle

The Main Speech (or "Immortal Memory)

The occasion is celebrating the birth of Rabbie Burns, and during the course of the evening, one of the guests is asked to give a short speech on Burns. The purpose of this is to celebrate the greatness and indeed relevance of the poet today, and these speeches can be light-hearted or serious.

The Toast

The main speech is followed by a more light-hearted address to the 'lassies' or women in the audience. This used to be a sort of  "thank you" to the them  for preparing the food,  and also a time to toast the many 'lasses' in Burns' life. The tone is normally light-hearted and even amusing.


A response is usually made where the women can return the 'compliments'. Again, is normally quite light hearted and amusing.

Songs and Poetry

After the speeches  the evening continues with the singing of songs and reciting of Burns' poems. A variety of his work is usually shared included some of the favourites such as  Tam o' Shanter, To a Mouse, and possibly Holy Willie's Prayer. Some of his famous songs might be sung like My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose or another love song like Ae Fond Kiss. Sometimes works ABOUT Burns are sung or read such as The Star O' Rabbie Burns or McGonagall's Poem called Robert Burns.

At the close of the evening programme, everyone will stand, link hands in the traditional way and singing Auld Lang Syne. If you're not sure what the words mean, check out my attempt at a translation.

So to help you enjoy the Burns Supper, here recipe for the Main Course.

Cooking the Main Course

If you've bought a ready-made haggis, it is already cooked and just needs re-heating until it is piping hot. It may seem obvious, but it is essential to defrost before cooking if you froze it.

Burns Supper 3 Haggis, neeps and tatties

The Stove Method

  • Bring a saucepan of water to the boil.

  • Place the haggis in the pan and turn the heat down immediately.

  • Don't boil - but ensure the water is simmering only. If you bring it to the boil the 'bag' will burst!

  • Simmer gently until cooked. The length of cooking time depends size of the haggis. A haggis about 2lb (0r 1kg) will take around 75 minutes to cook.

The Oven Method

  • Remove plastic bag and wrap haggis in foil.

  • Place in an oven-proof dish with a little water and cook in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C (Gas Mark 6) for about an hour, depending on the size of your haggis.

  • It is advisable to test with a cooking thermometer to a minimum of 63 degrees Centigrade.

The Microwave Method

  • Remove outer bag and skin.

  • Cut into evenly-sized slices and heat on medium for around eight minutes.

  • Halfway through cooking, mash with a fork to ensure an even temperature throughout.

Bashed Neeps

  • Peel and quarter the swede or turnip and boil for 25 mins or until soft.

  • Drain and mash with a little butter.

  • Add a teaspoon of caster sugar and season to taste with salt and freshly-ground black pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

Champit Tatties

  • Peel the potatoes and cut into small pieces and boil for 15 - 20 minutes or until soft.

  • Drain and mash with a little butter and milk (or cream) to get a smooth, creamy consistency.

  • Season to taste with salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

If you've enjoyed this page on Burns Supper, they do have a look at some of the other pages:-

Scottish Poems - have a look at some of the other famous Scottish Poems.
Auld Lang Syne - the most famous of all Burns' Songs
Translation of Auld Lang Syne - see my attempt at a translation of Auld Lang Syne.
Mothers' Day - A simple menu of Cottage Pie followed by rhubarb crumble.
Christmas Cake - Do try this recipe for a traditional Christmas cake.
Clootie Dumpling - This rich and traditional dish is a favourite all year round but especially at Christmas time.
Black Bun - This is traditionally served at Hogmanay when bringing in the New Year.
Cullen Skink - Maybe an alternative soup for a special occasion.
Haggis - Try this world-famous dish.
Pretend Haggis - This pretend haggis might be something you wish to try.
Raspberry Recipes - See what you can do with a punnet of delicious raspberries, including the famous dessert, Crannachan.
Tipsy Laird - The famous whisky trifle served at the Burns Supper.
Scottish Leek Soup Recipes - Try these two famous Scottish Leek Soup Recipes, the Cock o' Leekie would be serves at the Burns Supper.
Traditional Scottish Christmas - Discover some of the traditions we have at Christmas
Scottish Hogmanay - See how we celebrate Hogmanay and bring in the New Year.
Valentine's Day in Scotland - Did you know that the remains of St Valentines are in Glasgow, Scotland? Find out more

Also, do check out Scottish Customs and Culture Bookstore for a selection of books on our language, traditions, customs & culture.

Go back from Burns Supper to Scottish Customs and Traditions.

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