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Celebrating Robert Burns Night and Scottish Traditions of the Burns Supper

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Burns Night or Burns Supper is deeply woven into Scottish life and culture. Burns Night marks the birthday each January 25th of Robert Burns, one of our most famous and celebrated Scots born in 1759 in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire. It is an occasion to celebrate his life and literary works as the national Bard of Scotland.

The word “bard” is derived from the Celtic for "storyteller" and few people are more celebrated than Scotland’s own ‘National Bard’, Robert Burns. Robert Burns is also known as: "Rabbie Burns"; the "Bard of Ayrshire"; "Scotland's favourite son"; and in Scotland "The Bard" who died at the age of 37.


Robert Burns Night Gin & Rum Cocktails

Whisky is the traditional drink of the night but what if you don’t like whisky? What other handcrafted drinks and cocktails on a cold January evening would inspire this great man and his poetic qualities? Here is a rum and gin suggestion...

Hot Spiced Buttered Rum Recipe

  • 100ml Kimmeridge Rum Spirit

  • 200ml water

  • 25g butter

  • 1 blood orange , zested and juiced

  • 4 cloves

  • 1 star anise

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 tsp maple syrup

Heat all the ingredients in a pan until hot but not boiling whilst stirring. Let it sit for a few minutes before straining into mugs.

Mulled Gin

  • 100ml Lime Stone London Dry Gin

  • 400ml apple juice

  • ½ lemon, sliced

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 4 cloves

  • 2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

  • 1 small cinnamon stick

  • 3 juniper berries, lightly crushed

  • ½ tsp coriander seeds

  • 1 tsp runny honey

  • 4 bay leaves & 2 lemon slices as garnish

Pour equal measures of gin into four heatproof glasses. Add apple juice and all the remaining ingredients into a pan. Heat gently until simmering and strain into a jug. Pour the mulled apple juice into the glasses with the gin and stir gently to combine. Garnish each glass with a bay leaf and half a lemon slice and serve warm.


Born the son of poor tenant farmers William and Agnes Burnes he was the eldest of seven children. It was his father that was instrumental in ensuring his children who worked on the family farm were given the opportunity to read and learn. Robert Burns would go on and father 12 children, nine with his wife Jean Armour.

In 1786 at the age of 27 Robert Burns published his first collection of poetry, "Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect" and this would establish his celebrity status. This collection was an immediate success and Burns was celebrated throughout England and Scotland as a great "peasant-poet". His best-known poem is the mock-heroic Tam o' Shanter an epic poem in which Burns paints a vivid picture of the drinking classes in the old Scotch town of Ayr in the late 18th century.

The first Burns supper was held by close friends to the poet at Burns Cottage in Alloway in July 1801 to mark Roberts Burns death five years previously. Though not an official public holiday but a key cultural heritage event this annual supper has become a widely held annual tradition across Scotland and internationally where Scots now meet for a hearty meal. The venue would often display the Scottish flag known as the Saltire representing Saint Andrew the patron saint of Scotland. At Burns Night events, men would wear kilts and women may wear shawls, skirts or dresses made from their family tartan.

The Burns Supper would start where all the congregated guests would be welcome by a piper before taking your place and recite the Selkirk Grace also known as Burns Grace at Kirkcudbright.

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.

This would be followed in by the haggis being piped in by a bagpiper and the host then performing the Burns Night haggis poem titled, Address to a Haggis. The meal would be served once everyone had toasted the haggis.

The starter of traditional cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek soup) would be followed by a main meal of haggis, neeps and tatties (mashed turnips/swedes and mashed potatoes). A traditional Scottish rustic bread prepared in a skillet called a Bannock would accompany the meal.

The dessert may include either a Clootie Dumpling prepared in a linen cloth cloot, cranachan (whipped cream mixed with raspberries and served with sweet oat wafers) or a Typsy Laird a Scottish sherry trifle.

It is not until after the meal that the first Burns recital, the Immortal Memory is given, there’s a Toast to the Lassies, followed by a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies. The night ends with a vote of thanks and everyone sings Auld Lang Syne arm in arm.

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