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A guide to Burns Night: the traditions and order of the evening

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
Posted by
13 Dec 2017

For Burns Night, we’re inviting our supporters to hold a Burns supper and make the occasion all the more special by helping to fund vital blood cancer research. Here’s a lowdown on all of the essential traditions and activities.

A wine glass and a bouquet of flowers arranged on a table

The Burns Night tradition has been tried and tested for over 200 years, and here you’ll find the definitive directions to make sure it all goes off without a hitch. Remember, this is your special occasion; if you’d like to add an extra flourish, go ahead! Burns Night means different things to different people – so celebrate in your own way – as long as you’ve got Scotland in your heart we’re sure Rabbie would approve.


Start the night as you mean to go on by getting your guests in the mood with some traditional music. If you’re lucky enough to be friends with a pipe band, this is definitely the time to call in a favour. If not, Spotify should do the trick, and we’ll send you our special Scottish playlist prior to the event.

Piping in the haggis

Traditionally, the haggis is brought to the table as a piper plays the bagpipes – it’s a truly ceremonious moment in the evening! If you don’t happen to have a set of pipes to hand, we recommend finding a piper on YouTube.

Address to the haggis

With a knife at the ready, the host pays respect to the haggis by reciting Burns’ famous poem ‘Address to a Haggis’. Give it your all and deliver a rousing performance for your guests to enjoy! The first cut is made to the haggis during the third verse on reading the line “An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight.” Read our guide to this part of the night and the full poem.

Toast to the Haggis

After finishing the address, the host leads a toast by raising a glass and declaring “To the Haggis!” before serving the prized dish to the guests.


Robert Burns is famous for his poetry, and a Burns Night wouldn’t be complete without some lively recitals of Burns’ most-loved poems. You’ll find a selection of Burns’ classics in this toolkit. Fill up on food, then fill up on culture!

You could also embrace another Scottish tradition – ceilidh dancing. A ceilidh is a traditional Scottish social gathering, consisting of a live band and most importantly – a dance floor! There are many popular ceilidh dances each with set moves, which are called out by a ‘caller’ on stage.

But of course, this is your Burns night, so you don’t have to play by the rules. Whether you’ve got a massive dancefloor – or just the corner of your living room – if everyone’s twirling their tartan and having fun you’re doing it right!

Finale song: Auld Lang Syne

Most people know Auld Lang Syne as the song that rings in the New Year, but this was originally a poem written by Robert Burns, which was later set to a folk tune. It’s the only way to end a traditional Burns supper with friends. You’ll find the lyrics in this kit – sing it loud – you’ll be joining the hundreds of thousands of Scots raising their voices all over the world!

We’ve created an exclusive fundraising pack which includes everything you need to host a memorable Burns Night: party invites, recipes for a number of traditional dishes, a quiz all about the man himself and much more.

Sign up for your free Burns Night fundraising pack

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