For all the Scots out there (or Scottish wannabes like myself) Burns Night is a crucial event to celebrate! This past weekend my friends and I organized our own rendition of Burns Night. To tell more about our event and how to organize your own Burn’s Night my friend Stephen, as a guest contributor will share the details of the Burn’s Night we recently co-hosted with our friend Chrissy. Enjoy!
A while ago after all the anticipation and social buzz of the holiday season, there was wistful talk at work of when the next occasion would be; the midwinter can feel cold and lonely. Well thankfully a prolific writer happened to be born in Scotland on January 25th, Robert Burns. It was decided that the three of us would plan, host and execute our very own Burns night.
Between studying and living in Scotland and working and living in France (in a British expat-heavy community) we were all acquainted with the tradition of Burns night, and we quickly populated a guest list of friends and acquaintances. We figured some, or even most, of our guests would be unfamiliar with the event so we were careful to plan in advance, and to circulate short tidbits of information in order to manage expectations. A central part to any party is food and drink, and for Burns night, it is specific: haggis, neeps and tatties, and scotch!
Sourcing haggis in our relatively small community was a bit of challenge, but eventually after calling every butcher-shop or meat preparer in a 200 km radius, we struck gold with River’s Edge Catering at the East Riverside Golf and Country Club, who were host to the large-scale Burns night celebrated by our local St Andrew’s society. Haggis is one of those dishes that can at once entrance and horrify when its ingredients are known, so in an effort to be as inviting as possible, a vegetarian option was made for offer too. That’s right; vegetarian haggis!
Burns night ceremony can be as formal or informal as you would like. In our compact, warm venue in uptown Saint John we struck a a balance of formality and fun. The chair of Burns night has the responsibility to welcome, introduce all the entertainments and really keep things going: a master of ceremonies of sorts. The entertainments are usually poetry readings or songs written in old Scots. Reading poetry in front of a crowd can be intimidating so the chair should reach out beforehand to a couple guests to ask them to participate in advance of the party. In addition to the entertainments, major components to any Burns night are the Selkirk Grace, the address to the haggis, the immortal memory, and the toast to the lassies and the rebuttal so the chair should also have people lined up for these readings in advance. The night closes with the full assembly’s voices united in song for Auld Lang Syne.
It turned out we were correct in our assumption that many of our guests would be unfamiliar with Burns night; however, they did their research and came dressed appropriately and ready for a party. The chair has to get things going and explain what is going to happen, when, and by whom. After the welcome address, it was decided that the immortal memory of Robbie Burns would be next as this would provide more context as to the nature of the event.
Next up, the Selkirk Grace and the address to the haggis, then time to tuck in! Everyone was appreciative of the haggis, some extra appreciative of the vegetarian version. As we were in a small apartment we decided to not do sit down dining, but stand up nibbles so we had tattie scones to convey the haggis and some salmon lox plus some prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps!
The appointed entertainment readers were introduced and did a fine job reciting their chosen poems; they even inspired more guests to pick something to recite. This is where the job of chair becomes important; making sure everyone who wants to recite a poem knows when they’re up, and getting the attention of the room to introduce them: all while maintaining the inviting laid-back party atmosphere. In sum, just about all of the guests recited a poem, which really made the evening memorable and amusing.
One of my favourite parts of the evening was the toast to the lassies. The individual was chosen carefully and given advance notice, and came up with a clever poem that was both thoughtful and mirthful.
I did not know
Who Robert Burns was
Three weeks ago.
Robert Burns was a poet.
Who worked at the mall.
He had a cool moustache,
And played baseball.
But none of these things
Are actually true.
He’s very Scottish.
And the following is true:
He would walk 500 miles
Just for you.
But THIS poem’s for the lassies
(By the way.)
That’s a thing I should say.
Women are half
Of the world’s population
And the other half owe them
A standing ovation.
Not to mention our host
Who tends the home fires,
Gives us haggis and whiskey;
And you will see
All the many great lassies
This poem was a toast
And a toast to the lassies
So let’s show our love
And raise up our glassies.
The night tapered off with the chair thanking everyone for attending, making sure everyone had a safe way home, and culminated in a stirring rendition of Auld Lang Syne, which was sung with an aplomb and confidence afforded by comradeship (and scotch!)
Hosting a party of any size is a fun honour and a Burns night party is exceptionally merry. It is a great way to draw together a mixed bag of people of different ages, backgrounds and interests, and unite under a theme that celebrates Scottish language, literature, culture, and tradition. Like anything planning is key, but holds equal value to spontaneity
I hope you all enjoyed this guest contribution by Stephen! We had such a fantastic night celebrating and I already can’t wait for next year’s celebration!
5 thoughts on “GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: How To Host Your Own Burns Night”
I wasn’t aware of this tradition but it sounds like such fun. Thanks for inviting us in!
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Those mugs that Stephen and Alex are holding are REALLY freaking me out 😝😩YUK!!!
Looks like another fun night for you Laura!!
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Third Space had a mouse taxidermy workshop a few weeks ago and that’s where the mice came from 😲 We don’t usually have mice around haha
Ok I thought they looked very real!!! SO GROSS 🥺