What is Burns Night?

Sebastian Kotur

January 27, 2014

Some of you might be wondering what this ‘Burns Night’ thing is your English teacher’s been going on about. Maybe people are so cold by the end of January that all they can think about is a warm log fire? Is it related to Bonfire Night perhaps?

Think again…

Burns Night is the birthday of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). Although it’s more often celebrated in Scotland, there has been a surge in celebrations all over the UK. The most important part of the evening is the Supper: starters and pudding course vary, but the essential component of the meal is the famous haggis, brought in by the chef to the sound of bagpipes.

English tutors using Burns poetry

Tutors and English teachers often use Burns to introduce children to poetry, as many of the poems are short and funny. It’s also a great introduction to the different dialects historically spoken in the UK – after getting to grips with Burns’ style of English, Shakespeare’s poems might not seem so difficult!

Burns night Supper:

First the 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,

So let the Lord be thankit.”

When the haggis has been brought in, the host recites Burns’ ‘Ode to the Haggis’, usually stabbing the dish with his dirk (a small dagger) and ending with a toast to the haggis. It is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnips (neeps).

Burns night Speeches

The tradition of Burns night speeches can be used by tutors and teachers to introduce young children to public speaking.

  • Immortal memory – a toast to Robert Burns, with a short speech reflecting on the poet

  • Toast to the Lassies – the male speaker’s view on women! He has to be careful what he says because the next person’s turn is the lassie.

  • Toast to the Laddies – the female speaker’s turn to give her view on men and respond to any specific points the laddie made.

Important to note: All speeches should be amusing and not offensive!

Burns’ poems:

After the speeches, further poems by Robert Burns may be sung or recited, ending with a vote of thanks given by one of the guests, which may be followed by everyone singing Auld Lang Syne.

Have more burning questions to ask? An English tutor at Tutorfair can help if you want support with public speaking of if you or your child are looking for extra guidance  with poetry analysis.