How to host a Burns Supper: if you play with haggis, you're gonna get Burnsed
Burns Night: our step-by-step guide to hosting an absurdly-long evening filled with stringently-upheld traditions
Let us paint a picture for you. It's early January, you've stuck to your New Year's resolution for three and half days, and now you think you can do anything you set your mind to. Suddenly, you have a brainwave: you will invite people round for Burns Supper at the end of the month. You're more than up to the challenge of cooking a steaming pile of sheep's pluck and bulk buying the Tesco Value whisky, right?
Nope. You're panicking now. Can you say neeps and tatties in a room full of people without it sounding dirty? How do you find out the postcode for the Address to the Haggis? Relax, you Nervous Nelly. Here's how to host a Burns Supper like a pro.
Pipe in your guests
First off, a piper should play some bangin' tunes as the guests enter (traditional Scottish music, mind, not Metallica or anything). If there's a high table, he or she should continue playing until everybody sitting there is seated. If there isn't, read the room: is your tipsy pal Lisa settled in alright? Has your awkward cousin Steven started tucking his napkin into his shirt yet? If so, stop the music, you can begin.
Of course, if you haven't got a piper, you can just use a CD. We recommend this one, since the piper on the cover looks as gallant as the majestic stag he has befriended.
You're up, buddy. Welcome everyone to your home, tell them where the loos are, ask them not to steal from you.
The Selkirk Grace
Say this poem out loud and try not to nervously sweat as you do so:
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.
Piping in the Haggis
More piping. Your neighbours will be raging. The haggis comes in on a silver platter behind the piper (or you shakily carrying the speakers you borrowed from your mate). Your guests clap as the haggis is carried around the room. Who knows why. When it reaches its destination all the fun stops and a sour cloud of anticlimactic energy fills the room.
Address to the Haggis
Someone reads 'Address to a Haggis' by Burns, while everyone else tries to work out who the 'great chieftain o the puddin'-race' is. There's a cue in there to cut the haggis (you can figure out when for yourself. Put some work in, eh?)
Toast the Haggis
As if a poetic recital isn't enough, you now have to shout 'the haggis!' and everyone gets excited again.
Eat, you must be starving by now
That's enough poetry. It's time for the starter of cock-a-leekie soup or cullen skink. Once that's all slurped and swallowed, enjoy the main course of haggis, neeps and tatties, and finish off with a dessert of clootie dumpling (or cranachan, if you're a cream guy/gal). If you want some recipes, there are plenty floating around. We suggest looking at AllRecipes, or using this little-known thing called Google.
Now, the fun part. Ideally, there'd be a selection of malts to choose from, but realistically, you'll pour everyone a single dram of whatever was on offer at the local shop and hope they don't ask for more.
Burns' songs and poems are performed by some poor unsuspecting person at the table. Never has Tam O'Shanter sounded so shaky. Here's a website featuring an extensive collection of Burns' works for you to choose which gets performed on the night.
The Immortal Memory
A speaker takes to the stage (or just stands up at their place if your dining room doesn't have a fully-equipped theatre in it), and talks about Burns: his life, his love, his long, long poems. It can be personal, historical or anecdote-filled, just as long as at the end you raise a glass to the Baird.
I feel we covered this one in the subhead. There is more entertainment (that means more Burns songs, more Burns poems. And trust us, that guy has a lengthy back catalogue).
Toast to the lassies
Someone speaks about how straight up great women are, and some of the significant contributions women make to the world today. Then, perhaps unsurprisngly, there's a toast: 'To the Lassies!' they'll say, and you'll raise a glass and all will be well.
Even more entertainment
Even more Burns poems and even more Burns songs. Remember the sweet feeling of boredom?
Reply to the Toast for the Lassies
A lady replies to the toast that happened all those entertainment-filled minutes ago. Make it witty and cutting, people will be sleepy by now.
Vote of thanks
Stand up, thank everyone for coming, tell them to book their taxis home because there's no way they're sleeping on your couch or going top-and-tail in your bed.
Auld Lang Syne
To finish, belt out a rousing chorus of that song you all sang together on New Year's Eve, back before you ever conceived of organising this nightmarishly long dinner in the first place.
Burns Night is Mon 25 Jan. If you don't fancy hosting your own, check out all our Burns Night event listings.