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“Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit” – Selkirk Grace, Robert Burns

It is a great and grand tradition among the Scots to gather annually on the 25th January, in the midst of Winter, and celebrate their National Bard, Robert Burns in the form of a Burns Supper. Where family and friends gather round, sing songs, recite verse, feast on Haggis and lubricate proceedings with a dram or two…

And of course those wayfaring Scots (like myself) who have drifted South over the years and found themselves calling the golden soil of Australia Fair their home, now celebrate Burns Night in their own fashion, with their new found Aussie companions, who in my experience throw themselves into proceedings with gusto!

So what does a Burns Night in Australia look like? That is of course at least partially up to the host, but we’ll walk through some of the key elements of the night and how you can make it your own.

To kilt or not to kilt: Embracing the Dress Code

Depending on how formal you wish to make things you can suggest to guests they dress up a little bit to make things more special. While many Burns Suppers in Scotland would be Black Tie with the men wearing a full Dress Kilt and Tweeds, it’s a little bit warm in January in Australia for that.

However, if you have any Scots attending it’s always worth asking if they have a Kilt they fancy wearing, I’ve found a Kilt with a light shirt is cooler than one would expect, and you’re Australian guests will get a kick out of seeing someone in the National Garb.

As for Decor, you would be surprised how far some rolls of Tartan ribbon will go, and paired with some carefully placed candles can make a lovely dinner setting (although go easy on the candles as they generate more heat than you’d expect at that time of year). To add a bit of Australiana into proceedings some dried native flowers can add a lovely touch.
One little detail I would highly recommend is setting out a little drinks station on a side table, where you can proudly display the selection of Whisky for the night.

Your Guests Arrival

In a traditional Burns Supper the guests would be piped in, but as it’s passingly difficult to find a Piper for hire in Australia (not to mention deafening in an enclosed space) I’d recommend going with some music on the HiFi instead. Whether this is traditional Scots music or not is up to you. Some highland piping can certainly set the mood, but may not be to everyone’s taste, we’ve personally found the Proclaimers to hit a happy medium.

Some nibbles at this stage is always good too, if you can find them I’d highly recommend Mackie’s delicious Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper crisps which you can sometimes find in the import section of some supermarkets, and can help ease the nerves of any Aussies who may be wary of trying Haggis for the first time.

Your guests will likely be somewhat hot and bothered upon arrival so rather than launching straight into the Single Malts consider having a refreshing little whisky cocktail ready to welcome them.

The Meal (For the Whisky Soakage)

Of course one of the pivotal elements of the evening will be the meal itself which will be centering around your Haggis.

In my icy homeland, a Burns Supper will always commence with a Soup Course, however in Australia it’s just too hot for that. So we’ll always swap it out for something lighter. A particular favourite over the years has been Tasmanian Smoked Salmon with some form of light crisp bread or toasted pita and Creme Fraiche, giving an Aussie spin on a Scots staple. Pairing this course with a Lowland whisky like Vintage Malt Whisky Coopers Choice Secret Lowland Spring Blossom Marsala Cask can go nicely.

Australia also does some very nice lighter malts, so this can be a good opportunity to sneak an Aussie whisky into the evening should you wish to do so.

The main will be your Haggis traditionally served with “Neeps and Tatties” (Turnips and Potatoes). Both veg should be mashed, and often we serve with some Gravy to slather over everything.

Sourcing Haggis in Australia can be a challenge in itself, although many specialty Butchers will stock it. Pacdon Pork in Victoria appears to be the largest producer that we’ve come across.

Haggis is a heavy peppery flavour, so I’d always suggest pairing it with a heavily peated fiery Whisky, for which the Islay region is particularly well known. Something like Blackadder Peat Reek Single Islay Malt, 2018 would go perfectly!

There is a fair amount of ceremony surrounding the serving of the Haggis that we’ll talk about below as well.

Burns Night Haggis

For your dessert I’d suggest again going for something light and cool as a big serving of Haggis in the hot weather can be a lot. If you’re looking for some Scots flavours, Cranachan is a traditional dessert mainly made from Berries and Whipped Cream, or keep it simple and serve up some Gelato or Ice Cream for your guests. Pair it up with a fruitier Whisky, perhaps something from Speyside, like Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 70.

Coffees and a Cheese course are of course highly encouraged should you feel you have room, having some pre-chilled iced coffee in the fridge can also be a nice reprise from the heat.

Toasts, readings and songs, oh my!

One of the really special things about a Burns Supper are the various Toasts, readings and songs that are incorporated throughout the proceedings, with three main toasts forming the centrepiece of the evening. These three toasts all require some pre-preparation from the speakers so it’s good to reach out to your guests nice and early and see who might be interested in doing one, you’ll probably find some are more comfortable than others at public speaking but as you’ll see there are plenty of opportunities for those shyer guests to participate too!

The Host’s Welcome

To kick the night off you as a Host may wish to say a few words welcoming your guests. This doesn’t need to be lengthy or involve as much preparation as the main toasts, but is a nice way to break the ice and set some expectations on how the rest of the night will proceed.

Selkirk Grace

Before your starter comes out it’s custom for a guest to read Burn’s own version of Grace. While those less religiously inclined may wish to skip this, it’s a great little short poem that’s perfect to give to anyone less sure of themselves and possibly a bit nervous about public speaking. Burns Supper first timers are often given this reading at our table.

You can find the full ‘Selkirk Grace’ online here.

Piping in the Haggis

Have a guest who plays an instrument? Get them to bring it along and have them “pipe” in the Haggis as it’s brought to the table!

Address to a Haggis

There are 8 verses to this reading. This can be read by one of your guests, but as it’s quite long we like to print out the words and pass them around the table, with each subsequent person reading a verse each. It’s always memorable and gives everyone a feeling of being a part of things.
As the third verse begins “His knife see rustic Labour dicht” the reader plunges a knife deep into the Haggis, splitting it open ready to serve! Make sure the reader is prepped and ready with a knife.

You can find the full ‘Address to a Haggis’ online here.


1. Immortal Memory

This is one of the big three toasts, and probably the most difficult, particularly for the Aussies in attendance. It will generally take place after the main course, but we sometimes pop this one earlier on, between the Starter and main so as to spread things out a little more.

The subject of this toast is Robert Burns himself, and his memory. What exactly that entails is up to the speaker. If you have any Scots in attendance, this is a good one for them, or anyone else who might have been to a Burns supper before. Otherwise find a willing guest who likes to research and see what they come up with! As with all the three Toasts it should end with everyone raising a glass.

2. Address to the Lassies

The second of the three toasts, this one can be a lot of fun and is easier for Burns first timers to tackle. It is always given by one of the men in attendance on the subject of the opposite sex. Quite often the ladies at the table will be mentioned by name, but not necessarily, it can also be more on the speaker’s views on Women generally. A nice simple format for this one, is to have the speaker write a simple poem, where each verse pertains to a different lady sitting around the table. These should be light hearted and fun, so always best to steer clear of too many cliches and keep to mostly complimentary statements. At the close the speaker will have all the men at the table cheers to the ladies.

3. Reply to the Laddies

The final of the big three toasts of the evening! On the surface this is simply a mirror image of the Address to the Laddies, performed by a lady at the table, and directed to the males. However, in the right hands this can be played with and a good speaker can incorporate callbacks to the previous toast and even rebuttals to jibes and jokes made towards the ladies. Traditionally this speech follows directly after the Address to the Lassies, but to give the speaker some time to think on things, you might wish to delay it until after Dessert. Now of course not every speaker will want to be so off the cuff, so a fully prepared toast is absolutely fine (and collaboration between the speaker of the previous speech is encouraged also), but if you have a lady at the table who has a particularly quick wit this is her time to shine! And of course it should be finished off with a final raising of the glasses to the health of the laddies.

Party Pieces

Now for the rest of the evening you should be encouraging everyone at the table who has not taken part so far to get involved!

The staples of a Burns supper would be further readings of Burns poetry and verse and the singing of songs by Burns, but don’t force your guests to be constrained to works only by Burns. Ask if anyone has any other favourite poems they’d like to read, see who knows a tune on the guitar they can bash out for everyone to sing along or perhaps even a reading from a favourite book.

To help get people started on this we always have a few particular favourites printed out for anyone to grab and read. Of course our little stack of poems includes some classic Burns numbers (Ae Fond Kiss, A Red Red Rose, or for the braver souls Tam O’Shanter) but they live alongside more classic Australian fair like Banjo Paterson and there’s even a copy of Kubla Khan that has snuck in.

You’ll find once you start passing these around people get excited to jump up and read something, and soon enough you’ll have people pulling out phones and googling up the words for whatever else has popped into their heads. The same goes for the songs, print out some lyric sheets for some favourites, even if it’s just Wonderwall, and figure out which of your guests can strum a chord or two on the old Ukulele that’s gathering dust on the shelf.

You may wish to leave this part of the night as a surprise for your guests, or give them fair warning and suggest they bring along a favourite poem or song to do as a Party Piece. Either way it always turns out fun and even the shyest of guests will get around it!

Finally the night should wrap up with one final rendition of the Burns song Auld Lang Syne (which many will recognise as that song from New Year) and bid your guests farewell (bonus points if you load them up with the traditional Scots hangover cure of a can of Irn-Bru).

Thank you for joining us on the Burns Night journey, and we hope you all give the magical night a try!

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Article written by Ruairidh Finnigan, a Scot in Oz & a big Whisky Lover.