Awesome Ideas for Celebrating Burns Night

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Tasha Brandstatter

Staff Writer

Tasha is the least practical person you will ever meet. She grew up reading historical romance novels, painting watercolors like a 19th century debutant, and wanting to be Indiana Jones--or at the very least Indiana Jones's girlfriend. All this led her to pursue a career in the field of art history. After spending ten years in academia without a single adventure in Mesoamerica, however, Tasha decided to change her career and be a freelance writer (although she's still waiting on that adventure). In addition to writing for Book Riot, she's a regular contributor to History Colorado, the Pueblo PULP, and Opposing Views. She also runs two book blogs: Truth Beauty Freedom and Books (title inspired by Moulin Rouge, best movie ever) and The Project Gutenberg Project, dedicated to finding forgotten classics. Tasha also likes to have a drink or two and blogs about cocktails at Liquid Persuasion, as well as small town restaurants on Nowhere Bites. Blog: Truth Beauty Freedom and Books and The Project Gutenberg Project Twitter: @heidenkind

Every January 25th, Scots both real and honorary gather together to celebrate Burns Night (Burnsmas if you’re really into it), an annual evening of feasting, ceilidh, drinking, and poetry that marks the birth of Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns.

Burns Night began in 1801, with a small gathering of Burns’s buddies in a pub around the anniversary of his death. More than 200 years later, Burns Night is practically a national holiday in Scotland and is celebrated all over the world, from South Africa to Russia and Sri Lanka to Greenland.

For the bookish among us (I assume you’re one of the tribe), Burns Night is easily one of the biggest literary holidays out there. But it’s also a celebration of all things Scottish, arriving just in time to diffuse winter doldrums and give you a post–New Year’s boost. So pull out your tartan and get ready to party like a badass poet!

How to celebrate Burns Night

What you’ll need:

  • Tartan
  • Haggis (or some sort of traditional Scottish dish; haggis is actually illegal to sell in the US, so…)
  • Adult drinks for toasting the Immortal Memory
  • The words to Auld Lang Syne, a few favorite Burns poems, and a couple of friends

Burns Night Decorations

Party decor for Burns Night typically features traditional Scots tartan of some type, along with images of Burns himself. You can pair the two up for place settings, get creative with images of the Ploughman Poet, or go wild with party favors featuring Burns’s poetry and iconic Scottish items like bagpipes or Nessie.

Burns Night table setting idea | Bookriot.com

Scottish tartan and heather for Burns Night, via Pinterest

Burn Night tartan party favors | Bookriot.com

Tartan flower party favors via Pinterest

Want to go full-on Burns and break out the kilt? Here are some tips for how to wear it.

Burns Night Food

Burns Night haggis supper | Bookriot.com

Serving haggis at a Burns Night supper in Scotland, via Pinterest

Besides honoring the life and work of the Bard of Ayrshire (I will keep going with the nicknames, he has a ton of them), Burns Night is all about food, and one particular dish most of all: haggis. For most Scots, the idea of Burns Night without haggis is as unthinkable as Thanksgiving without turkey or Christmas without cookies, especially since it provides the perfect opportunity to recite Burns’s poem “Address to a Haggis.”

Burns Night Scotch Broth Supper Idea | Bookriot.com

Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Scotch broth with veg, via Pinterest

Burns Night Cock-a-Leekie soup idea | Bookriot.com

Cock-a-leekie soup via Pinterest

Burns Night haggis neeps and tattie stack supper idea | Bookriot.com

Haggis, neeps, and tattie stack via Pinterest

Burns Night party salmon appetizer idea | Bookriot.com

Salmon on tattie scones via Pinterest

However, if you’ve never had the chance to eat haggis, or can’t get hold of any, you may want to look for different options. Another traditional dish served on Burns Night is soup, usually a Scotch broth or Cock-a-Leekie. And there’s a ton of other fun-sounding Scottish fare to try, including cullen skink, neeps and tatties, clootie pudding, and a vegetarian version of haggis.

Burns Night vegetarian haggis supper idea | Bookriot.com

Amuse Your Bouche vegetarian haggis recipe via Pinterest

Burns Night chocolate haggis supper idea | Bookriot.com

Foodie Quine’s recipe for chocolate haggis via Pinterest

Alternately, you can make “chocolate haggis,” aka a haggis-shaped whiskey shortbread, and enjoy it as a desert!


What would Burns Night be without a few toasts to Scotland’s favourite son?? After the meal is over, guests take turns saying cheers to Rabbie, and if in mixed company a gentleman might make the “address to the lassies” in honor of Burns’s infamous way with the fair sex. Naturally, a hollaback from the feminine quarter is called for.

The drink of choice here is Scotch whisky, although any Scottish brew will do. The Independent recommends Strathearn Cider Brandy, but you could also go with a Scottish ale (the perfect opportunity to recite “Gude Ale Keeps the Heart Aboon“) or a Bobby Burns cocktail (whisky, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine, served with a lemon twist).


Burns Night ceilidh dancing party idea | Bookriot.com

Photo by Barney Moss via Flickr

Once everyone’s relaxed with some food and drinking, it’s time to kick up your heels have a little fun. Music is always a good choice, especially since in addition to being a poet the Scottish Bard was a celebrated lyricist. Burns collected traditional Scottish melodies and composed verses for the ones that didn’t have any, in an attempt to preserve them. Grab a guitar and some bagpipes if you’ve got ’em and sing a few of his hits, or hit up YouTube if you’re not sure where to start.

If you have enough space and people, you can take to the floor with a few turns of ceilidh—pronounced kay-lee—aka Scottish country dancing. There are several styles, including the Virginia reel, dashing white sergeant, and gay gordons.

At the conclusion of the evening, don’t forget to sing Burns’s most famous song, “Auld Lang Syne,” before heading out into the night, and remember your friends for next year’s Burnsmas.

Recommended Burns Night Poems & Songs

Or, for more options, pick up the Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns.