Things to do on Burns Night 2021
04 January 2021
Like many of our favourite traditions and celebrations, this year’s Burns Night festivities might look a little different, but that won’t stop us celebrating this much loved day in deepest, darkest January.
The latest nation-wide rules have meant many traditional Burns Night parties and feasts have been shelved till next year - this means it’s likely your own plans for the usual Scottish hijinks in your neighbourhood church halls, restaurants or favourite bars around the city have been put on ice for now, too.
If you’re looking for ways to enjoy this excellent tradition from home this year - then read on for some top ideas for getting your own Rabbie Burns good times on!
Why do we celebrate Burns Night anyway?
As Scotland’s best known poet, Robert Burns’ birthday - 25 January - has become synonymous with all the things Burns loved about Scotland. Good food, good company, good poetry and a wee dram of whisky (or two).
Most of us have enjoyed at least one Burns supper in our lives - even the school dinner ladies serve it up on the 25th January. Burns Night is celebrated around the world by those who love our country so even if we don’t enjoy the traditional poetry of Rabbie Burns, there’s still lots of ways to get involved on Burns Night.
For lots of us, the very fact there is a celebration in January is something to be loved! It comes in the very darkest days of January, so having something to celebrate is very welcome as we collectively start to feel optimistic about coming to the final weeks of Scotland’s dark and cold winter.
Traditional Burns Night celebrations
Image by The Royal Yacht Britannia
There’s nothing quite like a big, jolly gathering on Burns Night. Traditionally, the Burns Supper is a community affair, centred around a community or church hall. However, in the city of Edinburgh, many restaurants, bars and cafes host their own nights to bring their customers together.
No two Burns Suppers are the same, some more traditional others not so much. One thing that unites them all is the glorious Haggis (usually there’s a veggie option these days!) The haggis is brought into the main table, often accompanied by the skirl of bagpipes, birling Highland dancers and much applause from the hungry party-goers.
A hush will fill the room as the haggis is placed on the table, and the host recites the famous Burns poem, Address tae a Haggis, before plunging a knife into the haggis to rapturous applause.
Celebrating Burns Night at home
These days, haggis is easy to buy in butchers and supermarkets across Edinburgh, so it’s no longer a once a year dinner option! But if you want to make a meal (pardon the pun) of Burns Night at home, there are lots of ways to add more sparkle on the 25 January to celebrate this great man’s birthday.
Treat yourself to a delicious dram
Image by Scotch Whisky Experience
Whether you love it or loathe it, whisky goes hand-in-hand with Burns Night. If haggis, neeps and tatties is the main event for the traditional Burns Supper meal, whisky is the flavour that unites the rest of the meal.
It’s in the sauce that traditionally accompanies your haggis, as well as in the Cranachan, the traditional cream, oats and honey dessert that usually follows.
If you’re not sure what whisky you like, it’s worth doing a bit of research.
Royal Mile Whiskies is a great place to start. The staff know their way around and are eager to share their knowledge and experience with customers. If you ask nicely, you may even get a wee sample so you can try before you buy.
Find them at 379 High Street, Edinburgh EH1
Scottish Malt Whisky Society is a wonderful experience for whisky enthusiasts and novices alike. You have to be a member, or be with someone who is, to enjoy their whiskies in person.
But if you can’t enjoy the experience in-person for any reason, members and non-members alike can enjoy a Scottish Malt Whisky Society home dining experience. This could be just the ticket for a Burns Supper at home.
SMWS: The Vaults, Giles Street, Leith EH6 and Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2.
This year, The Scotch Whisky Experience are inviting you to an alternative Burns Supper with their "Burns in a Box" giftpack - a quirky kit to help you celebrate the life and poetry of our national Bard. So, raise a dram of Robert Burns single malt Scotch whisky, open your pocket book of poems and prepare to address your Haggis Spiced Chocolate (Great Chieftain o' the puddin'-race) from Coco Chocolatier and then let this poetic pairing inspire you to toast the Immortal Memory of Rabbie.
Haggis at Home
(Image Credit: Visit Scotland and Luigi di Pasquale)
If you fancy having a special haggis for your traditional Burns’ Supper, pay your local butcher a visit. No two haggis recipes are the same and if you’ve got a decent butcher in your neighbourhood you can be sure your butcher will claim theirs is the greatest!
You know you’ve got a great Haggis option on your doorstep if your butcher takes orders for their Haggis. That means the locals all know something you don’t - so get your order in quickly before the cabinets are bare!
Here’s three of our (many) favourite neighbourhood butchers for delicious haggis in Edinburgh.
Portobello: Finlay’s of Portobello
Brunsfield: W.M Christie Family Butcher
Stockbridge: George Bower Butcher & Poulterer
Make your own Haggis
Yes, we do know the ingredients of a haggis and before you run away screaming, come back for a moment! We know that making your own Haggis is not for the faint hearted, so we’re not even going to think about going there. In our experience, Haggis is best left to the butchers and professionals who don’t mind dealing with all the wobbly bits!
However, making a vegetarian haggis is relatively easy - and massively delicious. Here’s one of our favourite recipes from the Scottish Food Guide. It never lets us down.
Dine in to Help Out
If you don’t fancy making, or even cooking at home, fear not – several Edinburgh restaurants are offering home deliveries, meaning all you need to do is the washing-up. See here for a list of participating restaurants.
Online events to watch from home
If you’re not sure of the best way to run your Burns Night at home, or you’re desperate to be part of something bigger than your living room, check in with these on-line events for some Burns-inspired entertainment:
(Image Credit: Unique Events)
Celebrating the life and legacy of Scotland's National Bard, Burns&Beyond with Johnnie Walker will offer a series of free online events presenting art and culture from some of Scotland’s leading performers and musicians. The 2021 programme presents an online programme of live music and poetry to help everyone celebrate their very own Burns Night at Hame.
Taking place on Saturday 23 January, Burns Big Night In with National Trust for Scotland will feature music from Talisk, a cocktail masterclass courtesy of The Glenlivet, some exclusive insights into the life of Scotland’s national bard from NTS experts, as well as some very special guests who’ll bring the traditional Burns Supper to life including the world-famous ‘Address to the Haggis’.
Music and dancing
Of course, no respectable Burns Night would be complete without a great mix of Scottish music and dancing.
Spotify and YouTube have lots of great playlists for Burns Night so have a look and find one you love. Or make your own with a great mix of Scottish bands as well as the more traditional tunes.
Happy Birthday, Rabbie Burns
However you choose to celebrate this much loved Scottish tradition - don’t forget to wish Scotland’s most famous bard many happy returns. Check out some of his lesser known poetry and more about his rich writing career on the Visit Scotland website.