London Based Scots Celebrate Burns Night With Haggis And Whisky
Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

What Is Burns Night? Traditions And Activities To Celebrate The Day

Jasmyne Jeffery January 25, 2023

We may have thought the festivities were over, but Scotland have another evening of celebrations. Held every year, those outside the country may be a little unfamiliar with what the day is. If that’s you, we can tell you what Burns Night is and what traditions and activities Scottish people have to mark it. Plus, learn some Burns Night greetings to prove your enthusiasm.

Those January blues have kicked in now. Even though the supermarket shelves are already filled with Easter eggs, there’s nothing nationally to imminently look forward to. That is, of course, unless you’re in Scotland. Today, January 25, is Burns Night, which means the people of Scotland we’ll be marking the occasion this evening, as they do every year.

What Is Burns Night?

Burns Night, or Burns Supper, is when Scottish people celebrate the life of their national poet, Robert Burns on the anniversary of his birthday. Though the day is not a public holiday, celebrations typically take place in the evening.

Known as their ‘National Bard’, Burns’ Night is an opportunity for Scotland to celebrate its culture separate from other countries in the UK.

The Scottish poet was born in 1759 in Alloway and is one of, if not the most famous poet to write in the Scottish language. Globally renowned, Burns was part of the romantic movement and is thought to have inspired liberalism and socialism, even after his death in 1796. His most famous work is Auld Lang Syne, traditionally sung around the world as the New Year chimes in.

In 2009, the Scottish public voted Burns as the greatest Scot ever. So, it’s no wonder an evening is dedicated to him each year. Though Burns Night is traditionally January 25, celebrations of the poet typically take place throughout the year.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Burns Night Activities And Traditions

Maybe you’ve moved to Scotland for university and want to get involved with the Burns Night celebrations. Don’t worry, we can help you out by telling you some traditions and activities to get involved in. You’ll feel like a true honourary Scot by doing the following.

First things first — make sure you have some Haggis and whiskey in your house. Both are traditionally consumed on Burns Night as it’s as good an excuse as any. If you’ve never had Haggis before, then look at one of the following recipes to get inspired and ready for Burns Supper.

The main activity, of course, is reading or reciting some Burns poetry. Perhaps you’re part of a poetry society at university or often go down to a poetry slam. Well, if you’re doing so tonight then prepare for it to be all about Burns. If you’re staying in, then gather your flatmates around and you can all read your favourites Burns poems out loud. Maybe you’re fairly new to Scotland, so other Burns Night activities to get involved with are brushing up your knowledge on Burns and Scottish culture as a whole. To make it even more fun, you could hold a quiz in your university house, the prize being a lovely bottle of whiskey.

Burns Supper is also a time for lots of singing and dancing, helped along by the whiskey. Get the bagpipe out the cupboard or take yourself to some live music in town tonight. Celebrations are meant to go well into the late evening/night, so fill yourself up with a warm haggis dinner before clearing your throat and getting your dancing shoes on.

Burns Supper Greetings

Close up view of the famous Robert Burns statue with historic buildings of The Octagon, Dunedin city centre, Otago, New Zealand. Courtesy of getty

The first Burns Supper was held over 200 years ago, and lots of the activities have stuck. Celebrations don’t typically start until the evening, so don’t go thinking you’ll be getting a day of university lectures. So, use the opportunity to greet your lecturers or fellow classmates with some traditional Burns Supper greetings to prove your dedication to Scottish culture.

You may want to get your practice in for the Gaelic pronunciations before you start on the whiskey.

Traditionally, Sláinte Mhath is a greeting used on Burns Night, which translates to ‘Good Health!’ It’s pronounced ‘slanj-uh va’, so don’t go winging it. It’s not common for a Burns Supper greeting to be a direct translation of Happy Burns Night. Instead, use one of the following if the above is a little tricky. We can’t promise these will be much easier though.

  • Alba gu brath! – Pronounced ‘al’-a-pa ga bra’ and translates to ‘Scotland forever!’
  • Mòran taking! – Pronounced ‘maw’-run tah’-eeng’ and translates to ‘Many thanks.’
  • Mìle fàilte! – Pronounced ‘mee’-luh fal’-tchuh’ and translates to ‘A thousand welcomes!’

Now you know some Burns Night greetings, as well as traditions and activities. There’s nothing stopping you from getting involved this evening. Even if you weren’t born a Scot, they’ll appreciate the enthusiasm and willingness to get involved.

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Jasmyne Jeffery is a full-time writer on Freshered after working freelance with GRV Media previously. She attended the University of South Wales where she was also a student blogger. In 2022, she graduated with a first-class honours degree in English and Creative Writing. Jasmyne worked briefly for her local newspaper before heading to university and completing an internship at a publishing company. She is now pursuing and loving a career in journalism. Jasmyne has a particular interest in student news, entertainment, and social media, whilst also (trying!) to help put the world to right. Originally from North Devon, she is currently loving the small-city life in Cardiff.