Blog Post: What Is A Burns Supper?
A Burns Supper is a gathering to honor the life, work and memory of Robert Burns (1759-1796). A Burns Supper usually involves haggis and the recitation of some of Burns' poetry.
Every year we celebrate the birth of Robert Burns on Jan. 25. We mark the date as a time to gather friends and family in the wintertime (or in the summer, in the Southern Hemisphere, where they gather in his honor, too!), and to recite some of the verse of Robert Burns and to eat haggis.
Historians say that the first Burns Supper was held in 1801, on the fifth anniversary of the poet's death. Some of Burns' close friends gathered at his birthplace in Alloway, to toast his memory, recite his poetry and eat haggis. They decided to do it again on his birthday, and the tradition was born. Walter Scott presided over a notable Burns Supper in Edinburgh. And Ralph Waldo Emerson famously gave a speech at a Burns Supper in 1859 in Boston, held to honor the 100th anniversary of Burns' birth.
A Burns Night supper is a special holiday, a festive secular occasion that serves to commemorate Robert Burns and his genius, but by extension the event turns into a chance to commemorate the struggles, rugged perseverance and humble dignity that people from Scotland have always demonstrated and to take stock in the unique gifts that Scotland and its people have brought to the rest of the world. If haggis is eaten, poetry is shared, bagpipes are heard, songs are sung and single malt whisky is used to toast his memory, then it seems like Robert Burns and Scotland are being appropriately honored.
A country's holidays reveal something about its people and its values. If we honor the dates of our national independence, or the story of how European pilgrims were assisted by Native Americans, or dates on a religious calendar, pre-Lenten carnivals, presidents, or political leaders, or solstice days, those festivities all indicate what it is that we hold dear. Burns Night events are noteworthy - at least we think so - because the holiday commemorates a poet and a songwriter. Poetry and song - eloquence and the expression of life's joys and sorrows - are worth celebrating. And so are poets and singers. People in Scotland know this. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had holidays to honor the richness brought to our lives by artists like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman?
At Scottish Gourmet USA we take real pride helping to make these festive gatherings feel like a warm reminder of home and community. If you're interested in hosting your own Burns Night or in learning more about the traditions associated with Burns Suppers, we have a few books that are designed to guide newcomers
through the traditional toasts, menu items, and rituals.