The prime function of this time-honoured celebration of gastronomy and poetry is to pay tribute to the Scottish national poet, Robbie Burns (1759–96). It was first held on 25 January 1801, on Robbie Burns’s birthday.
A lockdown Burns Night, conducted on Zoom or similar, certainly presents challenges, but it also gives every guest the opportunity to contribute, rather than passively observe. Always, the onus falls on the ‘chairman’, who will have to make every effort beforehand to ensure that the event runs smoothly.
He or she will have to send out invitations, and also a detailed running order for the gathering, with specific roles and contributions assigned to each guest. Bear in mind that a video call can be an intense experience, so it is probably a good idea to set strict time limits on every contribution.
A virtual experience will certainly take the focus off the gastronomic element of the evening, though enthusiastic consumption of Scotch whisky is de rigueur. It will be up to each guest how strictly they observe time-honoured culinary traditions – such as cock-a-leekie soup and haggis, neeps and tatties. However, it is essential that the chairman follows gastronomic protocols.
Wear at least a bit of tartan – a hat, a tie, a scarf, or even a full kilt (though you’ll have to stand up to model it!)
Above all, relax and enjoy a convivial evening, which celebrates the spirit of the Bard and good fellowship. It will be a fitting antidote to lockdown blues.
Burns Night Itinerary
All join the call, have a quick catch-up, admire each other’s tartan and raise a glass.
The Selkirk Grace
The host/chairman offers an opening grace. Ideally at this point the participants will enjoy their soup; we recommend Cock-a-leekie, a delicious broth of poached chicken, leeks and prunes:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
Parade of the Haggis
Traditionally the haggis is piped in on a silver platter, accompanied by the chef. On this occasion the chairman may play some appropriate music to announce the commencement of the main course, but not before the…
Address to a Haggis
A designated addresser should now embark on a spirited rendition of Burns’s poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ (or an edited version of it) before the chairman slices his haggis open.
A simple toast to ‘The Haggis’, with raised glasses, and the meal is ready to begin.
It is now time for a designated speaker to deliver the Immortal Memory address, which outlines the story of Robert Burns and looks his work, ideally highlighting aspects that are relevant to the assembled participants. A further toast to the ‘immortal memory of the Bard of Ayr’ finished this part of the evening.
Songs, music and readings should now follow and participants should read works of their own choosing – they do not have to be exclusively by Burns, they may be works of other Scottish poets or stories and anecdotes about his life. During this phase of the evening guests can eat pudding (perhaps a Tipsy Laird, which is a Scottish sherry trifle), or enjoy cheese with bannocks (oatcakes) and yet more whisky. This is the point when, particularly on Zoom, the chairman must assert his authority, ensuring that every speaker is given his/her allocated slot, and is not interrupted when speaking
Toast to the Lassies
This is a light-hearted tribute to the ladies, which pokes affectionate fun at their various foibles and eccentricities, while making occasional reference to the work of Robbie Burns. It should end on a conciliatory note with a toast ‘to the lassies’.
Reply from the Lassies
This should be a witty rejoinder, which decries the men’s social inferiority and lack of refinement. Reference should be made to the Bard, perhaps a wry comparison with the men of the day. It should end on a complimentary note.
The Chairman thanks the guests for their attendance and good company, and now is a suitable time for a designated guest to voice general thanks for the Chairman’s efforts, proposing a final toast to the Chairman.
Auld Lang Syne
Before finally switching off for the night a rousing rendition of this sentimental Scottish song will cause general hilarity, especially if plenty of whisky has been consumed (make sure that all the guests have been circulated with the words, which no one can actually remember!).