In the depths of winter, Scots from around the world celebrate one of their country’s most venerated bards with pomp, circumstance, and a parade of haggis.
Born on January 25, 1759, Robert Burns composed poetry and songs so well-loved by his fellow Scots that, beginning on the fifth anniversary of his death, “Burns suppers” have been held annually in his honor. Scots travel for miles to the much-anticipated gatherings, where bagpipers usher in tartan-clad guests, practiced speakers, and the highly-anticipated haggis. Why is the Scottish pudding such an important part of an event celebrating a poet? Because Burns happened to write a poem to honor the offal-and-suet-stuffed stomach.
Following a welcoming prayer known as “Selkirk Grace,” the haggis arrives upon a silver platter and guests begin to clap slowly while the dish is paraded before them. Knife poised for action, one practiced artist recites Burns’s “Address to Haggis.” When he reaches a particularly visceral verse—
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
—the artist plunges the tool deep into the loaded belly, spewing forth its contents. Chefs scoop the haggis on plates piled with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes) and follow the savory meal with cranachan (whipped cream mixed with raspberries and served with sweet oat wafers) and bannocks (a kind of bread cooked on a griddle). Once the guests have eaten, another speaker conducts the “Immortal Memory,” a formal tribute to Burns, which is followed by recitations of his other works and the ever-important “Toast to the Lassies.”
While most events take place in the bard’s homeland, Burns suppers are held throughout the world. In its native home, demand for the best entertainers has led to a “Burns circuit,” in which suppers are performed for many weeks before and after Burns’s official birthday. Start practicing your ode to haggis now, and you might just get an invitation.
Visit Scotland with Atlas Obscura Trips
Poetry and Music in the Scottish Lowlands
See the lowlands through the eyes of one of Scotland’s most celebrated poets, exploring old port towns and ancient fortresses, sipping single malt whisky, and wandering the breathtaking landscapes that inspired the beloved bard.