Burns Night: what it is and how it started

Here’s everything you need to know about the Scottish celebration.

Robert Burns

by Bryony Firth-bernard |

You may hear everyone talking about ‘Burns Night’ right now, but what actually is it? Here’s everything you need to know about this annual Scottish celebration.

What is Burns night and when is it?

Burns night, also known as ‘Burns supper’, is a celebration of the life of one of Scotland's most famous poets, Robert Burns. Every year on 25 January, the birth of Burns, Scots (and people around the world) come together to celebrate Robert’s life and poetry with a ‘Burns supper’, a night of readings, dancing, piped music and feasting, with the iconic haggis as the centrepiece of the menu.

Read more: Delicious Burns Night recipes

Who was Robert Burns?

Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire on 25 January 1759. He wrote poems and songs about his time growing up on a farm, love and friendship. Inspired by the French Revolution, he also wrote about how the rich and poor should be equal. A Burns supper was held in memory of Burns by his friends at his first cottage in Ayrshire on the fifth anniversary of his death, 21 July 1801. The same year the 'Burns Club' was founded by some merchants who had also been born in Ayrshire and some of whom had known Burns. They held the first Burns supper on 29 January 1802, the date they believed to be his birthday. However, the following year, they discovered Burns' birthday was in fact three years earlier and the 25 January. Ever since, Burns suppers have been held either on, or near this date.

Some of Burns’ most famous pieces of work include ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which people all over the world sing on New Year as it reflects on old times; ‘A Fond Kiss’ (his most recorded love song), ‘To a Mouse’, ‘Address to a Haggis’ and ‘A Red, Red Rose’.

Is Burns night a bank holiday in Scotland?

Although Burns night is arguably more widely celebrated than St Andrews Day (Scotland’s national day), it is not a bank holiday in Scotland.

5 things you didn’t know about Robert Burns

  1. After Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Burns has more statues dedicated to him around than world than any other non-religious figure.
  1. Burns may be considered a poet by many, but he actually wrote and collected double the amount of songs than poems.
  1. John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ is named after a line in Burns’ poem ‘To a Mouse’.
  1. Burns’ 'Auld Lang Syne' is in the Guiness Book of World Records as one of the top three songs in the entire English language.
  1. Burns’ work has appeared in numerous films andTV programmes, including 'It’s a Wonderful Life' (1946), 'When Harry Met Sally' (1989) and 'Forrest Gump' (1994).

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