A Burns Supper

(For clarity’s sake, this was this year, not in 2004. Typo.)

When I got a call last month from author and editor Susie Bright inviting me to a Burns Supper right here in Santa Cruz, I eagerly accepted. While in Scotland a year and a half ago, I was able to see Alan Cumming’s remarkable one man show on Robert Burns, Burn, and spent much of the rest of the rest of the trip looking for a collection of  Burns’ poetry. What I found instead was a book called The Burns Supper: a Concise History by Clark McGinn. From even a brief perusal I learned that it was a celebration of the poet which has, since its humble beginning in his Ayrshire cottage five years after his death, become an event celebrated internationally on his birthday, January 25th . According to the Scottish newspaper The National, it’s estimated that more than 9.5 million people around the world take part in a Burns Supper each year. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I found myself at one. But this would be my first.

Griffin, our vibrant bagpiper

As the guests began to gather and get acquainted, we were treated to a lovely bagpipe performance by Griffin Holzhauer, a member of the bagpipes corps from the high school right across the street. He was also essential to the the piping in of the haggis, which is as many already know is the Scottish national dish, and the way the meal starts. (Although the traditional version is composed of various organs of a sheep with oatmeal and suet crammed into a sheep’s stomach lining, ours was a vegetarian version, which was quite tasty.) But why not take a look at the whole menu?


Blame the blurriness on me and my camera.

So what else happens at a Burns Supper? Many toasts and much poetry (and a lot of whiskey at some versions, though we were admirably restrained at ours). Susie acted as Chairman, keeping the evening flowing. The people who had offered to read at the event had submitted their selections in advance and these were all typed up in an elegant little volume for each of us. There are some poems which are pretty much required in a traditional supper— “The Selkirk Grace” which opens the evening as everyone sits at the table, followed by Burns’ own “Address to a Haggis” as the haggis is brought in, accompanied by bagpipe. In between courses, poems are read, not just Burns’,  and toasts are raised and all ends with the whole group singing “Auld Lang Syne,” which, yes, was Burns own composition.

Susie Bright doing the traditional ‘stabbing of the haggis’

Although it’s now the end of February and so a little late for a Burns Supper of your own (although actually the National Trust for Scotland says you may hold one at any time), it’s never too early to start planning next year’s. I’ve put some helpful hints in the links below. The most important thing is to invite people willing to enter into the spirit of the thing.

Novelist Elizabeth McKenzie, wearing her grandmother’s kilt

And even if you get a few details wrong, if you’re celebrating Rabbie Burns (as it is often spelled), the national poet of Scotland, you won’t be far off course.


I assume you know who this guy is.


Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She has also reviewed for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. She has published stories in a variety of literary journals. The recent anthology Annihilation Radiation  from Storgy Press, includes one of them. Santa Cruz Noir, a title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides. 


Wikipedia explains how a Burns Supper is done

Pan MacMillan suggests some Burns Poems to read on the night

The Carol Ann Duffy poem I read that night

buy The Burns Supper at Luath Press

Elizabeth McKenzie’s synchronistic encounter with poet Shara McCallum’s work No Ruined Stone 

Alan Cumming’s one man show on Robert Burns, Burn

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