Burns Night

Burns Night celebrations at Oxford University. (Wojtek Szymczak / Cherwell.org)

Burns Night celebrations at Oxford University.
(Wojtek Szymczak / Cherwell.org)

I received an email this week from a British formalwear retailer promoting plaid bow ties and waistcoats for Burns Night.  I had heard of Robbie Burns Day before but had no idea of the formal customs associated with it until I checked out Wikipedia:

A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns, author of many Scots poems. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday, 25 January, sometimes also known as Robert Burns Day (or Robbie Burns Day or Rabbie Burns Day) or Burns Night, although they may in principle be held at any time of the year.

Burns suppers are most common in Scotland and Northern Ireland however there has been a surge in Burns’ Night celebrations in the UK events industry seeing the evening being celebrated outside their traditional confines of Burns Clubs, Scottish Societies, expatriate Scots, or aficionados of Burns’ poetry.

Burns suppers may be formal or informal. Both typically include haggis (a traditional Scottish dish celebrated by Burns in Address to a Haggis), Scotch whisky, and the recitation of Burns’s poetry. Formal dinners are hosted by organisations such as Burns clubs, the Freemasons, or St Andrews Societies and occasionally end with dancing when ladies are present. Formal suppers follow a standard format.

So there you go: another excuse to dress up in black tie or, if you can claim Scottish ancestry, Highland Dress.

Happy Burns Night!


  1. suffolk

    I shall be feasting on haggis with a few friends. Formal Highland-wear is a minefield of nuances and traditions. Down here in Suffolk, England anything properly Scottish will raise an eyebrow. I’ll be in black barathea Argyll jacket and waistcoat, plain white shirt with a regular tie, a heavyweight kilt in the family tartan, semi-dress sporran, big socks, garter-flashes, and a pair of black cap toed oxford semi brogues. It’s about the most informal version of Highland-wear that you can muster.

  2. Hal

    I would’ve assumed that Burns Night would be a big deal in the US and Canada, given how proud many Americans are of their heritage.

    I have only ever been to informal Burns Night suppers. Great fun for lovers of whisky, offal pudding and tatties and neaps – which luckily I am.

    1. Cygnus

      It is big in the US, at least in some places. I know of four happening within an hour’s drive of my home. I’ve found that Burns Night celebrations are often held at Masonic lodges and temples due to Burns’s involvement with Freemasonry,


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *