Are you ready for Burns Night? Celebrated every year in Scotland and throughout the Scottish diaspora, this January 25 holiday is a celebration of the life and work of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns.
This year marks the 255th anniversary of the poet's birth and, as is the tradition, the day will be honored by people across the world sitting down to a Burns Supper. This is an occasion that follows a time-honored series of observances. First, guests are welcomed with bagpipes. Then, there's the recitation of Burns's pre-meal prayer, the Selkirk Grace. Finally, there's the "Address to a Haggis," which was written by Burns in 1786 and is the centerpiece of the Burns Supper today. The poem was composed entirely in the Scots language, so you may need to get out your Scots-English dictionary in order to follow along.
You may also need to bring along a strong stomach and an open mind, because haggis is certainly not to everyone's taste. Haggis is a a pudding made from a sheep's heart, liver, and lungs mixed with spices and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach. Unbelievably, it is actually quite tasty, but if you are not convinced, vegetarian versions are also available. Any authentic Burns Supper will serve the haggis with neeps and tatties (that's turnips and potatoes), and a glass of whiskey. The evening usually ends with live music, dancing, and... lots more whisky.
To get the sense of the tradition and ceremony of an authentic Burns Supper, here are a few places where you can don your best tartan (check Scotland.org for tips on how to look the part), and join the festivities:
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Scotland on Burns Night, you will find no shortage of celebratory events. Our favorite venues include Edinburgh's Whiski Bar, which will offer supper in four sittings, ranging in price from £25 to £30 including a "wee dram" of Talisker whisky. For a fancier evening, the baroque Prestonfield House Hotel, occupying a 17th-century building in Edinburgh, is offering dinner accompanied by comedians and folk musicians for £50.
In Glasgow, the famous Ubiquitous Chip will be celebrating Burns Night with a four-course dinner and a ceilidh (a social gathering with dancing) for £50, while at Arisaig, an evening of "celebration, song, and banter" (and haggis) costs £50.
In the United States:
New York City's St. Andrew's restaurant is celebrating Burns Night early, on January 24, with a menu that should reassure the haggis-averse. Dishes include a fig and bourbon glazed duck breast and pan seared Shetland Isles salmon, paired with Scottish beers and whiskies ($75). In Boston, Flora Restaurant's Burns Supper will feature poetry, Scotch, and music. Tickets cost $80. Over on the West Coast, the St. Andrew's Society of San Francisco is putting on an evening of dinner and entertainment. It's $95 for members and $125 for non-members. Black-tie or Highland dress is encouraged.