Everything you need to know about holding your own Burns night

Decide on your date for Burns Night

It’s always good to be able to do it on Burns birthday (25th January) – but sometimes when this falls on a weekday then you may want to hold your dinner on a weekend. 

Send out your Burns Night invites in good time

Yes, it sounds obvious but sometime folk have more than 1 Burns night event to go to. The good thing about January is that there is usually little else going on and people are gagging to get out and do something. 

The Running Order for the night

This is not definitive and it will depend on what you want to do / space you’ve got available.

Pipe in your guests – unless you are lucky enough to have a piper in your family and friends then stream some piping music for you guess arrival.

Welcome drinks – obviously this will depend on what people usually drink, however it is always good to have some whisky in the house. A malt or three such as Highland Park, Glenfarcas, Bowmore or one of the many others.  If you are looking for an alternative to whisky then Scotland makes over 70% of the UK’s gin and you can find beautiful botanicals in Rock Rose, Edinburgh Gin or one of the other many, many producers that have sprung up in recent years. 

Snacks – you don’t want to over feed people on the snacks, so you could make some oatcakes with salmon, cheese or chutney. Haggis (vegetarian or meat) stuffed mushroom are nice too.

Music – you can stream anything these days, you could go old school with some Kenneth McKellar or more modern with the Proclaimers, folkies may like the Corries or Gaelic lovers could go for Julie Fowlis or for the complete Burns effect you could try Eddi Reader who has a beautiful collection of Burns songs.

Chairperson’s welcome

Obviously if you having a few pals round you don’t want to make it overly formal, but it’s still useful to have someone who will coordinate the evening. They can say a few words welcoming everyone and let people know the evening’s details.

Selkirk Grace – said before the meal

Some hae meat and canna eat,

Some wad eat that want it

But we hae meat and we can eat

And sae the Lord be Thankit

The meal

Starters include – smoked salmon, mackerel pate, cullen skink, Scotch broth.

Pipe in the haggis – here the chef comes in with the haggis to (traditionally) the Burns song A  Man’s a A man for A’ that. Guests stand and clap. After the haggis is put down someone can give the Address to the Haggis (find it here). – It’s a long poem so it’s good to get someone to learn it a bit before it. Alternatively they can read it from a book. It adds an extra bit of drama and fun to the evening. Note: it is worthwhile making a small cut into the haggis before it comes out from the kitchen. They have been know to explode at the table, so it better if your guests get a chance to eat the haggis rather than wear it.  At the end of the Address the person giving the recital invites the guest to raise their glasses and toast the Haggis. 

Main course – Haggis, Neeps (turnips) and Tatties (potatoes). You can get meat and vegertarian versions of haggis – both are delicious. You can also get vegan and gluten free haggis as well. If you are stuck you could always try to make your own (or ask your local butcher if he fancies a challenge).

Pudding – Clootie dumpling or Cranachan are two favourites. You may want to search out a light version of Cranachan.

Oatcakes and cheese. 

You may want to eat first and then hold the speeches or intersperse the speeches and entertainment with the the courses.

After the meal people can recite Burns poems or if someone has a guitar there are some easy songs you can sing such as Ae Fond Kiss (guitar chords here), Green Grow The Rashes O  and A Red, Red Rose

The Immortal Memory

This is where the host gives a broad sweep of the life of Burns and touches on all aspects of his life. Wikipedia has it all covered here. Tailor your material to your audience – the life of Burns gives ample scope to move from the Romantic to the downright bawdy, so choose wisely Oh there’s  a joke about the Serious Burns Unit that gets wheeled out often. If your audience has been to any Burns suppers before it is likely they will have heard it (more than once). 

The toast to the lassies 

This is a gentle mickey take of women and reflecting, in part, a bit of about Burns life. no matter how close the bone the speech is it should be affectionate towards women and end on a positive note. 

The reply to the lads

This is the chance for  women to get their own back on the men, poking gentle (and not so gentle) fun at the foibles of men. It too should end on a positive note and a toast to the men. 


If you have a bit of space you can down load some simple music to go along with the Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant or the Eightsome Reel.

Auld Lang Syne

The night should end with Auld Lang Syne. The first and the last verses are usually enough. Remember to keep you hands by your sides until the last verse “And there’s a hand my….”

The level of formality should suit the occasion, if in doubt err on the informal – it is about having fun and relaxing and enjoying yourself with friends – old and new. 

If the thought of holding your own Burns Night seems too much the Ceilidh Club is holding events on the 19/20/26/27 January and the 3rd Feb 2018. All the details are here.