Posted by: Elder and Sister Hambelton | March 11, 2013

Rabbie Burns

There are many aspects to Scottish culture that are clearly identified with Scotland; the kilts, bagpipes, clan tartans, Highland games, and the Scottish brogue among others. But few are as unique and colorful as the Burns Suppers. Robert Burns is Scotland’s immortal Poet Laureate. He wrote in a combination of auld Scots and English and is renowned around the world. There are Burns Clubs who study and celebrate the poet on every continent and certainly everywhere the Scots emigrated and settled. On January 25th of each year (or the nearest weekend) Scots gather at “Burns Suppers” to eat a traditional Scottish meal, and participate in what is now a ritual observance and celebration of their “Rabbie Burns” and everything Scottish. This year we attended two Burns Suppers at two different wards. The spirit and fun was brilliant. We will describe the proceedings illustrated with a few pictures from each dinner we attended.

Traditionally the evening begins with a welcome. All of the guests are seated and grace is said, usually using the Selkirk Grace, a well-known thanksgiving said before meals, using the Scots language.

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.

The supper starts with the soup course. Normally a Scottish soup such as Scotch Broth, Potato Soup or Cock-a-Leekie is served.

Presentation of the Haggis

The haggis is brought in with much ceremony- pipers playing or a formal escort (at one meal the full time missionaries were fitted in full Scottish dress with ceremonial swords). The host, or a guest then recites the Address to a Haggis (at one meal it was offered in authentic Scotts/Gaelic language as written by Burns).

At the line “His knife see rustic Labour dicht” the speaker normally draws and cleans a knife, and at the line “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht”, plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly this “ceremony” is a highlight of the evening.

At the end of the poem, a toast will be proposed to the haggis, then the company will sit down to the meal. The haggis is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnips (neeps) and a dessert.

One of the guests gives a short speech, remembering some aspect of Burns’ life or poetry. This may be light-hearted or intensely serious. Everyone drinks a toast to Robert Burns.

This is followed by the Toast to the Lassies

This was originally a short speech given by a male guest in thanks to the women who had prepared the meal. However, nowadays it is a humorous commentary on women. It is normally amusing but not offensive, particularly bearing in mind that it will be followed by a reply from the “lassies” concerned. The men drink a toast to the women.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies

This is called the “Toast to the Laddies” and, like the previous toast, it is generally quite wide-ranging. A female guest will give her views on men and reply to any specific points raised by the previous speaker. Like the previous speech, this is amusing, but not offensive. The women drink a toast to the men.

Following the toasts, music and poetry from Burns and Scotland are recited and sung. At our ward, three non-Scots were selected to compete in a Sword Dance competition to be crowned as an honorary Scot. Sister Hambelton was selected to compete. Even though she was by far the best dancer, another American who clowned it up was voted honorary Scot and was presented with a “jimmy hat.” Sister Hambelton was relieved she did not win.

The finale of the evening is everyone joining hands in a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” written by Burns. Great fun and a vital Scottish tradition.

We have enjoyed all aspects of Scottish culture we have encountered. We have also enjoyed tuning our ears to the various Scottish dialects and learning Scottish and British terms. It is definitely not as challenging as a completely foreign language but we have many conversations where it might as well have been! We sometimes look at each other and ask, “did you understand any of that?” Edinburgh is pretty easy to understand except for some of the old timers. “Glaswegen” is spoken in the Glasgow area and is a thick accent with many unfamiliar terms. Dundee and Aberdeen like wise have very different and sometimes difficult accents. The northern highlands is thick with Gaelic vocabulary and strong accents. We have managed pretty well but we definitely will not leave fluent in Scottish. Like most languages, inflection and pitch form part of the meaning and is not just learning the vocabulary it is learning the dialect and pronunciation.

We have appended a few pages of some of our favorite words and phrases for you to enjoy (see the top tabs).

We love Scotland and our experience here has been very satisfying. We hope to have a few more entries on our blog before we are released,

so . . . . .

Haste ye back!



  1. We loved re-visiting the Rabbie Burn celebration through your description and pictures. They certainly know how to have fun and a good time at all their celebrations and get-to-gethers. We have always loved the Scottish people. There was a special feel there for us and we have loved all our return trips. They do know how to have a good time and we miss the people and their sweet spirit. Thanks for all your sharing with us. We love the remembering as you talk of your adventures. It is a wonderful place to visit.

    Love, Keith & Mary Ann

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