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Burns Night Traditions | How to Celebrate Like a True Scot

Posted on 30 Jan 2017

Burns Night traditions can vary from household to household. But what makes the event truly Scottish?

You may not be from Auchenshuggle.

And you probably don’t eat a Scotch egg for breakfast, play the bagpipes every day, and have Irn Bru pumping through your veins.

But it doesn’t matter when it comes to Burns Night traditions.

Because no matter where you’re from, you can enjoy Burns Night like a true Scotsman.

In fact, the people of Scotland would be honoured if you celebrated Burns Night like a true Scotsman.

So, read this helpful guide and learn how to have an amazing Burns Night full of honorary traditions.

Why the Scottish Celebrate Burns Night with Traditions

Scottish people celebrate this yearly event simply because they love Robert Burns. In a time without television, his poetry and stories entertained thousands of people. His works showed sincerity and spoke to the common person in a way that other expensively educated poets didn’t.

And at Rabbie’s, we especially love this tradition of celebrating Burns Night. In 1993, we named ourselves ‘Rabbie’s’ because we believed the poet was good at a lot of the things we do: storytelling, travelling, being overly romantic about places and enjoying ourselves.

Essential Burns Night Facts

To be able to celebrate Burns Night with traditional Scottish fashion, you’ll want to brush up on your knowledge. It’s embarrassing when you go to a birthday party and don’t know whose birthday it is.

And it’s the same with Burns Night. You’ll avoid humiliation by having a few things to say when a tartan-clad MacStuart asks you ‘what ye know about Burns?’.

So, here are some quick facts about Robert Burns that you may want to remember.

  • He was born on 25th January 1759, in Ayrshire
  • Burns Night is traditionally celebrated on Robert Burns's birthday
  • He died at the age of 37, after dental surgery
  • He wrote Auld Lang Syne, which is sung at New Year all over the world
  • He had at least 13 children with four women
  • 10,000 people attended his funeral
  • His poems addressed love, inequality, and patriotism

Understanding the Ceremony


Traditionally, a lot of families just have a small dinner with family, friends, and poetry readings. But if you manage to infiltrate a true Scottish Burns Night, you’ll find out that it’s quite a formal ceremony.

Here’s how the traditional Burns Night ceremony may pan out.


Dressing for the Occasion

Burns Night events can be informal or formal. And if it’s formal, it means the men will be in kilts and the women will be in dresses. But don’t worry if you don’t have a kilt, because the Scottish are never too strict about clothing!


How the Ceremony Starts

If you are attending a traditional Burns Night celebration, you’ll hear the bagpipes playing as you arrive (probably playing from Spotify or YouTube, if you’re hosting it yourself!). Then the host will welcome the guests. And once everyone has sat down, someone or everyone will say the Selkirk Grace, which is a Scottish thanksgiving that was once said before meals.

The Selkirk Grace is:

Some hae meat an

canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit


The Meal

After the grace is said, the haggis will be brought out while a bagpipe tune is playing, and the Burns’ poem, Address to a Haggis, will be said.

The traditional meal is haggis, potatoes, turnips in a whisky cream sauce. Don’t be surprised when you hear people mention ‘haggis, neeps, and tatties’, you can find many excellent recipes, but we like this traditional Burns Night menu.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you don’t need to worry, because vegetarian haggis is scrumptious. We love this vegan haggis recipe.


The Rest of the Traditional Burns Night Evening

As with many Scottish events, the rest of the evening may become a little boisterous. Toasts will be made every few minutes, whisky will be drunk by the gallon, poems will be sung loudly, stories will be told, and if you're lucky, you may even get to enjoy a ceilidh.

Places to go on Burns Night in Scotland

If you're in Edinburgh on Burns Night, here are a few good places to find a good ceilidh, or Burns Night Supper.


Prestonfield House

Browns Edinburgh


Know a Line from a Burns Poem

Following tradition, Burns Night would not be complete without reciting poetry from Robert Burn’s collection. Be prepared for your celebrations by learning an excerpt of his poetry

A Red, Red Rose (excerpt)

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

Meaning: The person he loves is as lovely as the loveliest thing that’s ever been loved.


We think this poem is even more beautiful when recited by someone. Do you recognise this voice?


To A Mouse (excerpt)

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Meaning: No matter how well you prepare for something, there’s a chance it’ll go wrong.

To a Louse (excerpt)

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

Meaning: If we could see ourselves as others do, we could become much better people.


To a Haggis (excerpt)

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

Meaning: Haggis is delicious.

Experience a traditional Burns Night in Scotland

Why not plan your 2023 Burns Night celebrations to visit the very country who started the tradition? You can even partake in one of our tours while you are here! We host a range of Scottish tours which can depart from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen. Once aboard the mini coach you and fellow like minded travellers can revel in the stories our guides present. Book your space now.