Burns Night

“Have you ever heard of Burns night?” My brother asked me.

“No. I don’t think I have.” I replied.

“It’s a Scottish holiday celebrating the life and poetry of Robert Burns.” He said.

This was December. Burns night was in January. Driving home from visiting my Brother, I thought, I am going to do a party for Burns night. At the time, I had no idea what that meant.

I knew who Robert Burns was. He was and is the Scottish national poet. My brother and I were both interested in him because of our interest in our Scottish heritage. My mother is a Keith. My father is a Lindsey (through his mother). The Lindsey’s and Keith’s played prominent roles in the history of Scotland. Through the Lindsey side, we are descended from the great King Robert the Bruce. So, my brother and I take pride in our Scottish heritage. Burns night sounded like a good way for me to express it.

I started talking about the party with a few friends who also had Scottish heritage or interest. They liked the idea.

So, I began researching what it would take to do a Burns Night celebration. I found a recommended running order for Burns night on the BBC page. Here’s what it included:

  • Piping in the guests
  • Chairmen’s welcome
  • The Selkirk grace
  • Piping in the haggis
  • Address to the haggis
  • Toast to the haggis
  • And on and on . . . (read the full running order here)

How in the world could I and my 12 guests do all that with no bagpiper among us? I thought.

I kept thinking. The first thing I needed was haggis. I didn’t need a lot of it, just enough to say that we had eaten it. One option was canned haggis. That just didn’t seem right on any level. Then, I found Scottish Gourmet USA. For $25, I could get a hand-prepared, one pound, frozen haggis express delivered to my home. Check.

Then, there was the entertainment. I found a Youtube video with ten hours of bagpipe music. No bagpiper. No problem. Check.

What about the entertainment? This was no easy task. For example, what blue-blooded American would be capable of saying “Address to a Haggis” in any way resembling this:

I asked my friend Ben if he would be willing to try it. I got no response. I told my wife. When she saw the video she laughed out loud and said, “How in the world could he do that?”

I laughed, too. “Yeah, there’s no way!”

A little later, he texted me and told me he would do it. Check.

For the next month I studied Burns’ life and poems and thought about how to put together the evening in a way that would work for our small group. By the week of the celebration, I had put it all together in a running order which I believed with some confidence 12 Americans could pull off (see my running order in the appendix at the end of the story).

Finally, January 25th, Burns Night, arrived. I had everything in order, and I was ready for a fun celebration. I actually sat down to watch the Glasgow Warriors take on Edinburgh Rugby in a rivalry rugby match. Sure enough, they were celebrating Burns Night over there in Scotland. They had haggis and neeps and tatties on sale at the match. That was also on our menu. Seeing that made me feel like I was connecting with my ancestors. All I had left was to prepare the neeps and tatties.

The neeps and tatties. Neeps and tatties is basically mashed potatoes with half of the mashed stuff being rutabaga. The recipe told me to boil the rutabaga and potatoes for 15 minutes and then mash them together. What the recipe did not tell me is that rutabaga takes about three times longer to peel and cook than a potato! So, with time ticking toward our Burns Night party, I had mashed potatoes and uncooked rutabaga. It took me another half hour of wrestling with the mashed potatoes to get it into a semi-edible condition.

That’s how the night started, but everything got better from there. My friend Ben did a marvelous presentation of “Address to the Haggis.” His noble attempt to sound like the video I had sent him was a highlight of the evening (see above for the video!). For your entertainment, here’s Ben performing the poem:

The haggis itself actually turned out to be excellent. I had made a large portion of roast beef as a substitute for the haggis because I believed that no one would want to go beyond tasting the haggis. I was wrong. I ate only haggis (except for one bite of roast beef), and most of the others enjoyed it as well. It was a real pleasant surprise.

During the entertainment, we served bannocks (like biscuits) and a cheeseboard. It was somewhat strange to have this dish after dessert, but I think the Scots are on to something. For the entertainment, one woman read “My Heart’s in the Highlands.” I recited “Scots Wha Hae,” Burns vision of Robert the Bruce’s words to his army prior to the Battle of Bannockburn. Another couple in attendance did a beautiful rendition of “Jon Anderson, My Jo.” We closed the entertainment with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Later that night, I took the book of Burns poetry off the dresser by my bed and put it back on my bookshelf. I was surprised to find quite a bit of emotion welling up inside me. I felt like the two of us had spent quite a bit of time together over the past month. Perhaps next December I will bring him to mind again as I prepare for Burns Night 2020.


Appendix – My Running Order

1. Welcome and Introduction
2. Prayer – The Selkirk Grace
3. Serving of Cock-a-Leekie Soup
4. On the Life and Influence of Burns
5. Address to the Haggis
6. Serving of the Haggis and the Main Meal
7. Serving of Sweets
8. Toast to the Lassies
9. Response of the Lassies
10. Serving of Bannocks and Cheese
11. Entertainment


4 Replies to “Burns Night”

  1. Hilarious! What fun! You’ll do anything for a good time with great friends, won’t you?! So, I got the description of neeps and tatties, but still looking for the meaning of haggis! Even though Ben did a marvelous presentation of “Address to the Haggis”, I didn’t quite “get” the deeper description!

  2. Such a nice way to spend time and remember our roots, thanks for sharing Wess, miss you so much friend, but I am Glad you are having such fun parties.

    Best Regards


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