Have you heard of Robert Burns? If you are a poetry fan, then you certainly have. And if you’re from Scotland, you most definitely have, or your fellow countrymen may choose to give you a toss!
It would be a gross understatement to say that Robert Burns was a famous and beloved Scottish poet. During his lifetime in the late 1700s and certainly after his death, his poetry and music earned him worldwide fame. He is regarded as the national poet of Scotland, has been commemorated on several stamps – including one issued by the Soviet Union in 1956 – and even has a crater on the planet Mercury named after him!
A failed farmer and the father of 12 children, sadly Burns died at the age of 37. His works are national treasures in Scotland and obviously around the world. His most famous work? Auld Lang Syne. Yes, the one we sing here in the U.S. on New Year’s Eve. While he borrowed the tune, the words are all his. Some of his other well-known works include A Man’s a Man for a'That, Ae Fond Kiss, To a Mouse, A Red, Red Rose, Tam O’Shanter and Address to a Haggis. Which brings us to Burns Night.
Burns Night is observed every January 25 (Burns’ birthday) in Scotland and around the world to celebrate Burns’ life and poetry. There really seems to be no end to his legacy. Also known as the Bard of Scotland and the Ploughman Poet, he set many of his works to music, and these tunes have endured for decades. Bob Dylan is said to have been influenced by A Red, Red Rose, and J.D. Salinger based the title of his novel The Catcher in the Rye on Burns’ poem Comin’ Throu’ the Rye. So it’s no wonder there’s an annual event in his honor.
While the official national day of Scotland is St. Andrew’s Day, (our equivalent national day is July 4 for comparison), Burns Night is large-scale enough to be considered a second national day. Before you get all excited for the Scots having two national days, you need to know this about Burns Night: haggis is involved. It’s actually pretty much the star of the show.
If you are holding or attending a traditional Burns supper, there is a script to be followed.
- Piping in the guests. At a formal gathering, guests are welcomed by live bagpipes. At less formal suppers, traditional Scottish music is played. We vote live bagpipes, please! For Burns suppers requiring formal dress, that would be a full Highland Dress of kilt, sporran (the small purse) and other traditional accessories.
- The chairman’s or host’s welcome. A formal welcome is offered, followed by the Selkirk Grace. This prayer is known as such because Burns is said to have delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk at St. Mary’s Isle Priory, Galloway. See, all he had to do was deliver a prayer he didn’t even write and it got renamed!
- The soup course. The meal begins with soup, most often a Scottish cock-a-leekie soup made with leeks and chicken. The traditional method of preparation includes prunes.
- The main course. You can’t have a proper Burns supper without serving haggis. For those of you who don’t know, haggis is a savory pudding – not like your chocolate pudding in a little plastic cup, so just hang on before you get the wrong idea – made from sheep’s “pluck,” which is the heart, liver and lungs.* Throw in some spices, suet, oatmeal and stock. Then stuff it into a casing – the traditional casing being the animal’s stomach, but artificial casings are more often used now. After you’ve stuffed the casing and secured the ends, you boil the pouches for about two hours. When it looks like you shouldn’t eat it, it’s done.
When served properly, the haggis is ceremoniously brought into the room accompanied by the playing of bagpipes while the guests stand. Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis is then recited. It is because of this poem that haggis is not only served at a Burns supper, it is the national dish of Scotland. The man’s influence was seemingly boundless.
For a Burns supper, haggis is served with “neeps and tatties,” which are mashed Swedish turnips and mashed potatoes. A glass of Scotch whiskey is also served. (Honestly, we could say “cock-a-leekie” and “neeps and tatties” all day, they tickle the tongue and make us smile.)
- Toasts. After the meal, it’s time for a toast to the ladies, and then the ladies’ turn to toast the men. These are known as the Address to the Lassies and Reply to the Laddies. Other speeches, readings and toasts may be given as the night proceeds, while coffee, tea, desserts and likely more Scotch are enjoyed.
What does this all have to do with tea, you may ask? Well, Scotland is another UK country that loves its daily strong cuppa, whether it be with a wee dram of whiskey in it, just a touch of milk and always strong enough to stand a spoon in. Since tea was introduced to Scotland in the early 1600s, it has become a daily staple. We love this beautiful country and find the Burns Night tradition one of the more fascinating in the world. Full of ceremony, history and national pride, it not only celebrates the life of a beloved artist but reflects the soul of a fascinating country.
Want to experience a wee bit of Scotland without traveling? While we highly encourage you to get to Scotland if you can; in the meantime, you can enjoy some of our Scottish teas and treats to bring the experience into your home. Throw on a kilt and bring out the bagpipes for added enjoyment. The haggis is up to you.
Scottish Morn. This incredibly strong tea will stand up to the demands of the Scottish for a stiff tea to start their day. A portion of sales of this tea and Scottish Afternoon help support the charitable work of the American-Scottish Foundation.
Scottish Afternoon. A little less intense and more aromatic than its morning version, Scottish Afternoon is still a strong tea that will power you through the rest of your day.
Allens Scottish Shortbread. We have a special relationship with these Scottish bakers and are proud to offer their delicious Harney tea-infused shortbreads.
Scottish Gift. Get the best of all our Scottish products in one beautifully packaged box.
Black Cask Bourbon. While this is not a traditional Scottish tea, the smoky bourbon flavors combined with a partial lapsang souchong base create a flavor we think a Scotch drinker would fully appreciate.
*If you’ve heard that haggis is illegal in the U.S., then you are partially correct. Traditional haggis made with sheep’s lungs has been banned in the U.S. since 1971 over health safety concerns specifically around lung tissue. There are other ways to make haggis that do not include sheep’s lung tissue that are perfectly legal – there are even vegetarian recipes for haggis that would turn a traditionalist’s stomach but make a haggis dish easier to swallow for others.