Robert Burns Night Supper

Burns Night Traditions

This page describes the significance of Burns Night traditions and provides a single reference to the associated lyrics. 

Origins of Burns Night

To commemorate the bard’s life and works, the date of his birthday, January 25th, is celebrated as Burns Night in which Scots-at-heart around the world come together to share in a Burns Supper. Although the format of the evening can change from supper to supper, the general ceremony remains similar to the first Burns Supper held in 1801 at the King’s Arms Hotel, in Ayr, a short walk from Burns’ birthplace.

This first Burns Night was hosted by the Reverend Hamilton Paul, the Laureate of the Alloway Burns Club who and gave the first “Immortal Memory” speech about the poet.  Reverend Paul held the Suppers for nine years in Alloway as they began to spread each year throughout Scotland.

Robert Burns Night Suppers are now held around the world in celebration and recognition of the enjoyment he brought in a time when spoken and written words were the only form of communication and entertainment.

ASCI Burns Night Detailed Program


  • Piper greeting
  • Guest reception
  • Live music
  • Bar service
  • Whisky Tasting
  • Poetry and Song Seminar

Procession and Address to the Haggis:

Dinner Service and Entertainment:
Three course dinner with haggis available on the side.

Auction and Closing Ceremony:

Site of the first Burns Night, Kings Arm Hotel, Ayr, Scotland before its demolition in 1925 and after post-fire renovation in 1833. Photo courtesy of South Ayrshire Libraries Blog

This contemplative statue of Robert Burns is located in the Birks of Aberfeldy of which Burns wrote his poem of the same name in June of 1787 on his tour of the Highlands.  After Aberfeldy, Burns traveled the 17 miles down the River Tay to Dunkeld and Birnam where he met the famous Scots fiddle composer and performer, Niel Gow (1722-1807). Photo by Bill Clark

Scotland The Brave

The earliest known version of the Scottish patriotic song appeared in 1878.  This unofficial national anthem of Scotland (which has none) also does not have official lyrics nor is its official original author known.  Performing Scotland the Brave during Burns Night my not be a universal tradition, but we can think of no better selection for the Procession than this classic.

Instrumental version

We don’t sing the lyrics at ASCI Burns Nights but there are many versions.  Two of the more popular versions follow:.

Cliff Hanley, a Scottish journalist,
wrote these lyrics around 1950

[Verse 1]
Hark when the night is fallin
Hear! Hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling,
Down thro’ the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.


[Chorus – traditionally sung after each verse]
Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever,
Scotland the brave.


[Verse 2]
High in the misty Highlands,
Out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat
Beneath Scottish skies.
Wild are the winds to meet you,
Staunch are the friends that greet you,
Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens’ eyes.


[Verse 3]
Far off in sunlit places,
Sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearning to feel the kiss
Of sweet Scottish rain.
Where tropic skies are beaming,
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming for the homeland again.

Sung with visual lyrics
Lyrics popularized by Canadian
singer John McDermott 

[Verse 1]
Let Italy boast of her gay gilded waters
Her vines and her bowers and her soft sunny skies
Her sons drinking love from the eyes of her daughters
Where freedom expires amid softness and sighs


[Verse 2]
Scotland’s blue mountains wild where hoary cliffs are piled
Towering in grandeur are dearer tae me
Land of the misty cloud, land of the tempest loud
Land of the brave and proud, land of the free


[Verse 3]
Enthroned on the peak of her own highland mountains
The spirit of Scotia reigns fearless and free
Her green tartan waving o’er blue rock and fountain
And proudly she sings looking over the sea


[Verse 4]
Here among my mountains wild I have serenely smiled
When armies and empires against me were hurled
Firm as my native rock I have withstood the shock
Of England, of Denmark, of Rome, and the world


[Verse 5]
But see how proudly her war steeds are prancing
Deep groves of steel trodden down in their path
The eyes of my sons like their bright swords are glancing
Triumphantly riding through ruin and death


[Chorus – traditionally sung only at end]
Bold hearts and nodding plumes wave o’er their bloody tombs
Deep eyed in gore is the green tartan’s wave
Shivering are the ranks of steel, dire is the horseman’s wheel
Victorious in battlefield, Scotland the brave
Bold hearts and nodding plumes wave o’er their bloody tombs
Deep eyed in gore is the green tartan’s wave
Shivering are the ranks of steel dire is the horseman’s wheel
Victorious in battlefield, Scotland the brave
Victorious in battlefield, Scotland the brave

Sung with visual lyrics
Jim McDermott Live
with dancers

Selkirk Grace

On a 1794 visit to the Earl of Selkirk’s home on St. Mary’s Isle in Kirkcudbright, Burns recited an old version of a traditional Scottish grace known as the Galloway Grace or the Covenanter’s Grace which he changed to his style of recital and writing. The guests were impressed and Burns published it as the Selkirk Grace in their honor.

“The Selkirk Grace”
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

Toast and Address to the Haggis

The poem “Address to a Haggis” was written by Burns in 1786 to celebrate his appreciation of haggis, a typically Scottish dish, and hence it becomes a sign of Burns’ patriotic nationalism. In the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions, the Scottish were much encouraged to pursue their own separation from England. Burns wanted to show his countrymen how proud they ought to be of their own heritage and how they should labor to preserve that heritage. In doing so, Burns hoped that Scots would learn to stand up for themselves and fight for their right to exist as independent peoples and nation. Moreover, the haggis could serve to strengthen Scots’ body and help them win battles on land or at sea. As a result, Burns and haggis have been forever linked and reciting the “Address to a Haggis” is a highlight of Burns Night.

The poem is written in the Standard Habbie stanza (six line AAABAB rhymes, with A tetrameter lines (having 4 metrical feet) and dimeter B lines (having two metrical feet)).  The foot length is two syllables and thus the A lines have 8 syllables and the B line have 4 syllables. 

Traditional haggis was made of a boiled sheep’s stomach casing filled with heart, liver, lungs; none of which our haggis contains.  Photo by Lordvolom1.

This straightforward rendition of the poem also has an analysis of its craft, context, and resonance in the full length video following the YouTube link.

Robert Burns – 1786
Original Lowland Scots
English Translation

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the pudding race!
Above them all you take your place,
gut, stomach-lining, or intestine,
You’re well worth a grace
as long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

The overloaded platter there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hilltop,
Your wooden skewer could be used to fix a mill
if need be,
While through your pores your juices drip
like liquid gold.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An cut you up wi ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like onie ditch;
And then, Oh what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

His knife see the serving-man clean,
And then cut you up with great skill,
Making a trench in your bright, gushing guts
To form a ditch,
And then, 0h! What a glorious sight!
Warm, steaming, and rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums

Then, spoonful after spoonful, they eagerly eat,
The devil will get the last bit, on they go,
Until all their well-stretched stomachs, by-and-by,
are bent like drums,
Then the head of the family, about to burst,
murmurs “Thank the Lord”.

Is there that ower his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Is there a pretentious soul who, over his French ragout,
Or Italian cuisine that would make a pig sick,
Or French stew that would make that same pig ill
with complete and utter disgust,
Looks down with a sneering, scornful attitude,
on such a meal? [as Haggis]

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
Oh how unfit!

Poor devil! See him over his trash!
As feeble as a withered bullrush,
His skinny leg no thicker than a thin rope,
His fist the size of a nut,
Through a river or field to travel,
Completely unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle

But look at the healthy, Haggis-fed person!
The trembling earth respects him as a man!
Put a knife in his fist,
He’ll make it work!
And legs, and arms, and heads will come off,
Like the tops of thistle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if Ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

You Powers who look after mankind,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery, wimpy stuff
That splashes about in little wooden bowls!
But, if You will grant her a grateful prayer,
Give her a Haggis!

Haggis is traditionally served with neeps, and tatties (rutabagas and potatoes)..  Photo by Colin.

“To a Haggis”, Robert Burns, from Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect , Edinburgh, 1787. Public domain photo.

Immortal Memory

The Toast to the Immortal Memory of Burns is an oration on the life of Robert Burns to emphasize the reasons why his memory is, and should be, immortal.  The speaker concludes with a heart-felt toast: “To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!

Toast to the Lassies and Laddies

A humorous highlight of any Burns Night comes with the Toast to the Lassies, which is designed to praise the role of women in the world today.  This was originally a short speech given by a male guest in thanks to the women who had prepared the meal.  However, it is now much more wide-ranging and generally covers the male speaker’s view on women.  The toast concludes: “To the Lassies!”

This is followed the “Toast to the Laddies” and also called “A Toast from a Lass”.  Like the previous toast, it is generally now quite wide-ranging.  A female guest will give her views on men and reply to any specific points raised by the previous speaker.

Auld Lang Syne


Robert Burns transcribed and added to this Scots folk song in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk melody not known to us today.  Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man’s singing.”  Some of the lyrics were indeed collected rather than composed by the poet.  The ballad “Old Long Syne” printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns’ later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same “old song”.  There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world.

Illustration to the poem Auld Lang Syne by J.M. Wright (artist) , John Rodgers (engraver) and Edward Scriven from The Complete Works of Robert Burns: Containing the Poems, Songs, and Correspondence… Published by George Virtue, London, c. 1841.  Photo by Adam Cuerden.


The song’s Scots title may be translated into English literally as “old long since”, or more idiomatically “old long ago”. 

Ought one forget old acquaintances?  Or is it or rather that, if one does forget them, then share a cup o’ kindness yet, to their memory?  Or as Harry Burns asks at the climax of arguably the best American rom-com.

Auld Lang Syne
As transcribed and written by Robert Burns in 1778 in the original Scots with English translations in superscript.

[Verse 1]
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auldold langlong synesince?


[Chorus – repeated after each verse]
For auld lang syne, my jodear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


[Verse 2 (omitted at ASCI Burns Nights)]
And surely ye’ll bebuy your pint-stoupcup!
and surely I’ll bebuy mine!
And we’ll tak’take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


[Verse 3]
We twatwo haehave run about the braeshills,
and pou’dpicked the gowansdasies fine;
But we’ve wander’d monymany a weary fitfoot,
sin’since auld lang syne.


[Verse 4 (omitted at ASCI Burns Nights)]
We twatwo haehave paidl’dpaddled in the burnstream,
fraefrom morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braidbroad haehave roar’droared
sin’since auld lang syne.


[Verse 5]
And there’s a hand, my trusty fierefriend!
and gie’sgive me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’take a right gude-williegood will waughtdraught,
for auld lang syne


Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the Irish and British Isles.  As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them where it has been translated into more than 40 languages.  It is well known in many countries and besides being used to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight, it is also sung at weddings, funerals, graduations, at the end of Burns Suppers, cèilidhs, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.

Auld Lang Syne also serves as the climatic spirit for arguably the best American Christmas film.

Original Robert Burns letter to George Thomson, incorporating a manuscript of “Auld Lang Syne,” September 1793 courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

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