Burns Night - celebrating the life and work of Scotland's national poet

The life of Robert Burns,Scotland's national poet, is celebrated every year on 25th January. Burns was a noted raconteur and wordsmith of the highest order. The first Burns Supper was organised by his friends after his death in 1796 and is a tradition that continues to this day. Be it a smart, formal affair or relaxed family gathering, the star of any Burns Supper is the haggis.

Haggis - The Star Turn

  • In his poem 'To a Haggis', Burns turned this most humble of dishes into a world icon. It was the focal point of the first Burns Supper and continues to be the star attraction, whether in its large 'Chieftain' form for feeding a multitude, a more domesticated haggis for two at home or a sneaky microwaved slice before heading out to party.

    While revellers may number in their hundreds, the same haggis-fuelled fun may be experienced at home with a close coterie of friends and relatives.

The Running Order

  • You may follow the traditional format or make up your own - it's entirely up to you...as long as Macsween haggis is involved, of course. The formal version of a Burns Supper is well worth experiencing, whether you are a haggis virgin or experienced lover of the iconic dish. If you are to organise or attend a formal Burns Supper, the following are the main attractions:

What to Eat and Drink

  • Traditional Burns Night

    You can serve whatever you fancy with your haggis on Burns Night, but a traditional menu looks something like the following.

    • To start: Cock-a-Leekie soup, vegetable soup or Scotch Broth.
    • To follow: Macsween traditional or Vegetarian haggis with 'champit tatties and bashed neeps' (creamed potatoes and mashed swede).
    • For pudding: Cranachan or 'Tipsy Laird' (Scottish trifle with whisky).

    If this hasn't filled you up and you have room for more, there are loads of great Scottish cheeses to try.

    You can find recipes for the traditional Haggis, Neeps and Tatties and plenty of other inspiration on our recipe pages or watch on YouTube.

  • Gluten Free Burns Night

    Our Gluten Free Haggis is made using the same high quality ingredients and traditional family recipe as our Traditional Haggis, but we use gluten free oats to create an alternative that is full of flavour. Whilst you can enjoy a traditional serve of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, why not try something different this Burns Night?

    Italian twist: Try mixing through gluten free pasta for a hearty haggis mac and cheese.

    Middle Eastern twist: Create spicy haggis koftas for a quick and easy evening meal.

  • Burns Night With A Twist

    However, Burns Night doesn’t have to mean traditional Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. Haggis is an extremely versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Check out some of our favourites to put a twist on your Burns Night celebrations.

    In a rush: Use our In A Hurry slices to create a plate of haggis nachos in under 5 minutes.

    Feeding the family: Crumble our traditional haggis through lasagne to spice up this family favourite.

    Meat free: Stuff our vegetarian haggis into yellow peppers for a delicious evening meal.

  • Whisky, wine, beer and other friends

    Whisky and haggis is often seen as the perfect match so it feels almost unpatriotic to suggest that maybe we should introduce haggis to some new friends! 

    Red wines are usually a good choice with many South African and Italian varieties having the right qualities to bring out the best in haggis. With beer, the dark styles match well – maybe Dark Island from Orkney or a Continental beer like Duvel. For a non-alcoholic option try crisp Bramley apple juice from specialist brands like James White.

Burns Poems

  • The poems; here is the text of the most popular poems used on Burns Night - The Selkirk Grace, To A Haggis, and Auld Lang Syne.

    * This version is taken from The Kilmarnock Edition, which was published during Burns' lifetime.

Burns Night FAQs

  • Who was Robert Burns?

    Robert (or Rabbie) Burns is widely regarded as Scotland's national poet. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire on 25th January 1759 and died in Dumfries on 21st July 1796. He is known worldwide for his poetry written in the Scots language, although he also wrote in English. His most notable works include 'Auld Lang Syne', 'Ae Fond Kiss', 'Tam O'Shanter', 'A Man's A Man for A' That' and, of course, 'To A Haggis'. He grew up in a poor farming family and, after a time spent in Edinburgh, returned to farm near Dumfries before taking up a post as a Gauger or 'exciseman', all the while writing and collecting folk songs. He died at the age of 37, probably due to a rheumatic heart condition.

  • Why is Burns night celebrated?

    Burns Night is a celebration of the life and works of Robert Burns. The first suppers were organised by the poet's friends, on the anniversary of his death. The first Burns Club, founded in Greenock in 1801 by Ayrshire merchants, held their first Burns supper on the anniversary of his birth in January 1802. This is the tradition that survives. And today, Burns Suppers are held throughout the world on or around the 25th January.

  • Why the fuss about haggis on Burns night?

    Burns' life and works can be celebrated in any way possible, although the traditional format is well established. His poem, 'To a Haggis' was crafted in 1786 during his first visit to Edinburgh and was originally improvised as a tongue-in-cheek, mock-heroic moment during a meal at a friend's house. It is unlikely that Burns could have realised the far-reaching consequences of that occasion. Although by no means his finest poem, it nonetheless established haggis as Scotland's national dish and secured its place as the centrepiece of every Burns supper.

  • What's the difference between a turnip and a swede?

    It depends whether you are Scottish or English. In Scotland, a turnip (or 'neep') is a 'brassica rapa' or Swedish Turnip, so called because King Gustav III of Sweden gave some seeds to a patron and friend of Robert Burns. The same vegetable is called a swede in England, and is not to be confused with what the English call a turnip, which is much smaller and paler in colour.

  • Is there a world record for the size of a Burns supper?

    To celebrate the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns' birth in 2009, more than 3,900 Burns Suppers in more than 80 countries were joined together to make the 'The World Famous Burns Supper' celebration.

  • Are Burns suppers organised outside the UK?

    Burns Suppers are popular throughout the world. Many are organised by Burns Societies in the USA and Canada, where some 8 million people claim Scottish descent. In Russia, Burns is known as the 'people's poet' and the first translation of his works sold over 600,000 copies in 1924. The former Soviet Union was the first country to honour Burns with a commemorative stamp in 1956.

  • Can anyone organise a Burns supper?

    Yes - the more the merrier! It doesn't have to be a grand formal affair or follow the traditional format. It may be an intimate family gathering or a celebration with friends. Any combination of Burns' poetry, songs and drink will work. You do not have to be traditional in the choice of food, although haggis must of course be the centrepiece. The great news is that Macsween makes all kinds of haggis for any number of people, from single servings to the ceremonial Chieftain. And for a Burns supper on the hoof, try our Microwaveable traditional or vegetarian haggis - they are ready in just 60 seconds!

  • Where can I find 'The Immortal memory'?

    Contrary to some people's expectations, this is not a Burns poem but a speech specially written for the occasion. So, if you've volunteered for this part of a Burns supper then you have a bit of work to do! But don't panic - it's just like a best man's speech that tells of Burns' character and achievements in an affectionate and entertaining way. You should be able to get some inspiration and ideas by having a look on the internet.

  • Where can I find out more about Robert Burns and his suppers?

    The best way is to come to Scotland and follow the Burns Trail through Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire. You can visit his birthplace, and the places where he lived and worked. There is also a new state-of-the-art museum dedicated to Robert Burns and his legacy, as well as countless books and websites.

The Macsween Guide to Burns Night