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What is Burns Night all about?

People at a party each enjoying a dram of Scotch Whisky
Wherever you are in the world, you'll be able to find some Scots celebrating the life and poems of the Bard on the evening of January 25th. These celebrations often involve some weird and wonderful moments, including an Address to the Haggis and a number of poem recitations. We gathered together people from the SWA - some who had been to many Burns Night celebrations, and some who hadn't been to any - to find out what they know about the famous night.

Who is Robert Burns and what is his connection to Scotch Whisky?

Robert Burns is Scotland's most famous poet, born in 1759. Well known for his poetry - most famously, Auld Lang Syne - this influential poet spent the last few years of his life working as an Exciseman, or what we might know as a tax collector.


As an exciseman, Burn's duty would have been to visit distilleries and gauge how much tax should be paid by them, as well as identify and stop any illicit distilling. A thankless and dangerous task, only a few years after starting Burns wrote The Deil's Awa Wi' The Exciseman - a sure sign of what people thought of the company that excisemen were keeping!


However - it wasn't all negative! Before he started in his exciseman role, Burns wrote 'Scotch Drink' - an ode to whisky and the nature of happiness - of community, cooperation, warmth and a friendly welcome - and his poem went to the true spirit of Scotch.


Often considered a second national day for Scotland, Burns Night was first held on the fifth anniversary of his death by his close friends in memory of him. The traditions that we see today have been developed since that first Burns Night, but often include toasts, ceilidhs, and of course - Scotch Whisky!

In 2023, we asked members of the SWA team to recite Scotch Drink, Burns' ode to Scotch Whisky

Want to learn more about some of the different elements of Burns Night that our team mentioned?

Selkirk Grace

Said at the beginning of the night, the Selkirk Grace is a prayer in Scots, said just before the haggis comes out. Attributed to Robert Burns, the Selkirk Grace was around before him, but Burns popularised it in 1794, reciting it at a dinner party with the Earl of Selkirk.


Some hae meat an canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.


Address to the haggis

After the Haggis is brought in on a silver platter, to the tune of bagpipes, the poem 'Address to the Haggis' is read, and on cue (His knife see rustic Labour dight), the haggis casing is cut, and lifted aloft for the final line (Gie her a haggis!) to applause and cheers! The haggis is served alongside neeps, tatties, and of course a dram of Scotch Whisky.


Toast to the Lassies

Originally intended as a thank-you for the meal, the Toast to the Lassies usually references the work of Burns and is made by a man in honour of the women of the party.

It's followed in turn by the Reply to the Laddies, where the women of the party return fire - all in good fun.