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Burns Night: All you need to know about celebrations for Scotland’s national bard

Robert Burns
Robert Burns

Burns night will soon be upon us, and Scots around the globe will be toasting the National Bard with whisky glasses held high and haggis at the ready.

To celebrate, we’ve uncovered some unusual facts about Robert Burns and the Burns night celebrations…

The first Burns Supper was held in July 1801 – the fifth anniversary of Rabbie’s death – when nine of his closest friends gathered to celebrate his life.

It was such a success that they met on 29 January the following year – which they originally thought was the date of his birth. In 1803, they got the right date and the tradition soon become a global phenomenon.

Robert Burns is the third most common non-religious figure to have their own statue in the world (after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus).

That’s mainly down to his huge following in the former Soviet Union, where Burns was adored by socialists. Russia was the first country to honour the bard with a postage stamp.

Robert Burns statue, Central Park, New York

Despite his success, Rabbie’s net worth upon his death was a measly £1. Yet the value of his life and work today is immeasurable.

In 2010 a book of his poetry travelled 5.7 million miles to space, making 217 orbits of Earth.

Burns’ work has inspired the likes of Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Bob Dylan.

Two of Burns’s sons served for many years in the East Indian Company army, and one of them, James Glencairn Burns, was later appointed judge and collector of Cachar (in Assam).

Dumfries educated James became an expert in Hindi, instructing company cadets in the language on his return to the UK in 1839.

Fondly known as Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s Bard was not born with this name. Rabbie was in fact Robert Burness or Burnes until he chose to shorten his last name at the age of 27.

He also never signed his name ‘Rabbie.’ The poet went by Rob, Rab, Robin – even Spunlie – but never once Rabbie.

The song Auld Lang Syne, a key feature of a supper, is hugely popular in China where it is known as You Yi Di Jiu Tian Chang or Friendship Forever and Ever.


Things to do this Burns Night

For Burns Night, the spicy Haggis Chettinad at Glasgow’s Dakhin restaurant in Candleriggs has been specially created to celebrate India’s love of the bard after it was revealed that many of his songs have become Indian favourites since the 19th century.

India’s own celebrated poet, Rabindranath Tagore, adapted at least three of Burns writings, most famously ‘Phule Phule, dhole dhole’ which is based on ‘Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonny Doon’, set to a Bengali version of the original melody.

A Burns Supper with a twist is offered at the first-ever Bannockburn Burns Supper Drive Thru. Drive into Bannockburn, order your meal and then enjoy in the comfort of your own car or take it away. You may even happen across a bit of poetry or a song!

The Burns Haggis Supper features haggis, chappit neeps and mashed tatties with a whisky sauce, followed by a Tunnock’s Teacake, all washed down with a can of Irn Bru.

There’s a Burns Night Murder Mystery at Drum Castle – A Kilted Killing on Saturday 25 January, 6.30–10pm.

Immerse yourself in the storyline, quiz the characters about their motives and find clues to help solve the murder.

A sumptuous, traditional Burns Night 3-course supper is included.

Dumfries’s Big Burns Supper kicked off yesterday and will see 11 days packed full of world class musicians and performers, in a celebration of Scotland’s national bard.

Among the acts performing is Newton Faulkner.