Burns' Night – UK Culture – Online English Lessons

Burns’ Night is celebrated on the 25th January every year and is a celebration of the birth date of Scottish national poet Robert Burns (1759 – 1796).

Robert Burns was the son of a farmer. He is said to have had a ‘fondness for the ladies’, and he was an enthusiastic promoter of human welfare and social reform.

Robert Burns wrote much of his greatest poetry and songs in his native Scots language and his works have had a significant influence on keeping the Scots language alive. For example, there are people all over the world who sing Burns’ Auld Lang Syne (1788) on New Year’s Eve:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne? For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne. We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

Did you know that after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure?

Burns Supper

Burns’ Night is traditionally celebrated with a Burns Supper.

This tradition is said to have been started by a few close friends of Robert Burns who met for dinner on the fifth anniversary of Burns’ death to celebrate his life and works. The evening was such a success that they agreed to meet again the next year, and so the tradition of holding a Burns Supper to celebrate Robert Burns’ life was born.

Burns Supper food

Typical menus for a Burns Supper include cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek), haggis with neeps (turnip or swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes), and, for desert, Typsy Laird (sherry trifle).

A haggis is like a large sausage and is sheep’s stomach filled with minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, and onion and oatmeal. If you would like to try making one for yourself, here is a traditional haggis recipe 🙂


At a traditional Burns Supper the Haggis is brought in on a silver platter, in a procession of people which includes the chef and a piper. Guests stand to welcome the Haggis and clap to the music. A reader reads out Address to a Haggis in an entertaining way, then cuts the Haggis and holds it up high, and the guests applaud enthusiastically! 

Address to a Haggis (1786) Here’s part of Robert Burns’ poem about the haggis, in Scots dialect:

Address to a Haggis Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin’-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang’s my arm.

This is the standard English translation

Fair is your honest cheerful face, Great chieftain of the pudding race! Above them all you take your place, Stomach, tripe or intestines: Well are you worthy of a grace As long as my arm

And here is a translation into Czech:

Tvá oblá tvář je čarovná. je tváří vůdce, chuti tvé se maso, drůbky nerovná a co jich jest! Ty králem jsi všem pokrmům na věky čest!

(Translated by Stanslav Kostiha)

You can read the whole poem in Czech on the Burns Night Prague web site.

Do you know of any translations into other languages?

Listen to Address to a Haggis, read by actor John Gordon Sinclair.

Try our Burns’ Night word search Use your mouse cursor to highlight the words you find.

The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award is presented annually to a group or individual who has “saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through personal self-sacrifice, selfless service, ‘hands on’ charitable/volunteer work, or other acts.” The winner receives 1759 guineas – 1759 being the year of Burns’ birth, and guineas being the currency then in circulation.

Homecoming Year 2009 was Scotland’s first Homecoming Year, and the year consisted of a calendar of events marking the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth and celebrating all things Scottish.

Image of a thistle (the national emblem of Scotland) by foxypar4 Image of a haggis by roland Image of Address to a Haggis by madmack66