BRITS BITS: 10 traditions of Burns Night
By Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 23, 2014
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Burns Night is one chock full of tradition and festivities. As one of - if not the most - prominent poets in Scottish history, an entire night is dedicated to Robert Burns' poetic prowess. Here are 10 traditions which occur at nearly every Burns Night celebration, in honor of a revered poet.
1. Haggis: One of the oldest traditions of any Burns Night celebration is to have haggis during supper. Haggis is a savoury pudding made from the innards of sheep, and minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt. It's then mixed with a stock and packed in a sausage casing. While the ingredients may not sound appealing on their own, all together it makes a delicious dish.
2. Whiskey: Another staple of any Burns Night celebration is Scotch whiskey. If there's going to be alcohol present at an event for the most celebrated Scottish poet ever, it might as well be a well celebrated Scottish spirit.
3. The Selkirk Grace: At the beginning of a formal Burns Night celebration, bagpipes play and the guests clap along in time. The host then recites the Selkirk Grace as follows, "Some hae meat but cannot eat. Some cannot eat that want it. But we have meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit." This is then followed by:
4. The "Parade of the Haggis": All of the guests stand and clap to welcome the haggis to the table. Bagpipes play again and the chef escorts the haggis to the supper. It's placed on a giant plate called the "groaning trencher" before it is served to the guests.
5. Address to a Haggis: Following the parade, a guest at the celebration recites the poem, "Address to a Haggis," or at least a portion of it as follows, "His knife, see rustic labour dight an' cut ye up wi' ready slight." The chef then plunges a knife into the haggis and the feast begins.
6. Immortal Memory: Following the dinner, there is a short break and all the guests are brought to another room for the rest of the night's festivities. Guests will then sing a Burns song in preparation for the Immortal Memory address. This is probably the most serious moment of the night, as it is a recounting of the life and art of Robert Burns. At the end of the address all guests stand and offer a toast to Burns.
7. "Toast To The Lassies": This toast is a playful way for the men attending the celebration to poke fun at the women in attendance. Either through the works of Burns himself or a firsthand account, the men get to lay into the ladies for a short while.
8. "Reply From The Lassies": Just as the "Toast To The Lassies" lets the men poke fun at the women, the "Reply From The Lassies" offers the ladies a chance to fire back some less-than-kind words to the men. While the two exchanges may seem as though the two sexes are attacking each other, it's always taken in good humor.
9. Tam o' Shanter: The quintessential Robert Burns narrative poem is a must for any Burns Night celebration. The tale starts with the ever-drunk Tam imbibing with his cronies. After an argument with his fed-up wife, she prophesizes him drowning in the River Doon. After he leaves the pub, he encounters all sorts of supernatural beings that chase him to nowhere other than the River Doon.
10. Auld Lang Syne: This poem is the traditional end to any Burns Night. It's undoubtedly Burns' best known work. It's a great way to cap off an evening spent with friends, family and classic works of art.
While these particular traditions are present in almost all formal Burns Nights celebrations, they can be modified and switched around to suit any party held in honor of the life and works of Burns. The most important thing is the appreciation is kept alive, so the next generation continues to honor one of the great poets of the 18th century.
(Editor's note: information gathered from www.robertburns.org)