How to Host a Burns Night Party at Home

January 20, 2023 by

The 25th of January is fast approaching, and with it comes the legendary Burns Night party celebrations. Robert Burns is Scotland’s most famous poet, and every year for over 200 years, people have celebrated his life and work. Whisky flows, haggis is served with neeps and tatties, and many fine toasts are made. If you’re hosting a Burns Night party this year, then keep reading poetry-loving friends. We’ve got everything you need to toast the man in style, and host a Burns Night to remember.   


A great Burns Night party that the man himself would be proud of isn’t something you throw together at the last minute. It takes careful planning. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a handy list and game plan. Tick every box below and you’ll be toasting, singing, and making merry with your nearest and dearest in true Burns style. Let’s get cracking!   

Guest list & invitations

A stack of old books with a feather and a candle

As the master of ceremonies, the guest list should be your first port of call. You don’t have to deliver handwritten invitations using 17th-century ink, but we do recommend creating a simple digital invitation. Even if you have the design skills of day-old haggis, you’ll be able to whip something up using an online invitation generator.   

Include all the usual who, what, and when details, as well as any extras like dress codes. Inform your guests if they must bring anything, then send your invitations out on your preferred messaging platform. Most importantly, make sure your guests RSVP and get your final party number on time.  


A group of friends planning a party around a table

If you’re planning a small night with a couple of friends, then a budget might not be a concern. But if you’re going all out with a long table of friends and family, then a budget will be needed. Once you’ve got your food, drinks and décor locked down, you’ll have a better idea of how much you will need. Split the costs between guests, and ask everyone to contribute before the event for ease of execution. Also remember it’s no fun to party plan alone, so wrangle a few teammates to plan the best Burns Night party ever.   


A dinner table with soft lighting

Mr Burns was a simple man who lived in a humble cottage, so we recommend a ‘cosy cottage’ theme for your Burns Night party decorations. We suggest a stylish country table setting with neutral tones and a splash of tartan. Soft lighting and candlelight will create the perfect poetry reading ambience. We also recommend printing out copies of the poems or songs you plan to read. If budget allows, you could give each guest a copy of his best work.   


Close up of a man playing bagpipes

Burns Night wouldn’t be complete without the iconic sound of bagpipes. They’re used to welcome your guests, and most importantly, the bagpipes are played when the haggis is brought to the table. The ceremony is called ‘piping in the haggis’, and the Robert Burns song, A Man’s a Man, is played as the haggis makes its way to the table. The easiest way to achieve this is to create a Scottish playlist on your favourite music streaming service. If you want the full Burns experience, consider hiring a bagpipe player for the evening. Some bagpipe players will even perform Robert Burns’s poem, Address to Haggis, upon delivery of the sheepy treat.   

Food & drink ideas

Burns Night haggis

As far as Burns Night dinner party recipes go, it’s all about haggis with mashed neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). Unless you’re feeling super committed, we recommend buying ready-made haggis. There are plenty of good brands around these days, and you’ll even find vegetarian haggis if you want to include a plant-based option.   

For canapés, Cullen Skink (smoked haddock chowder) or Cock-a-Leekie (chicken and leek) soup are traditionally served. To end the evening on a sweet note, serve up some cranachan trifle. It’s a delicious blend of toasted oats, honey and whisky-infused cream with fresh raspberries. You can make a family-size serving, or opt for individual glasses for a touch of class.   

Being a Scotsman, Old Rabbie had a penchant for the golden nectar. He loved nothing more than a few drams and laughs with friends, and you should follow suit. A welcome Scotch is essential but after that, feel free to encourage your guests to bring whatever they would like. You could also mix a few Scottish cocktails and host a cocktail tasting throughout the evening.   

What to wear

Scottish tartan material

A dress code helps to bring the evening to life, so encourage your guests to make some effort. It’s a celebration, so dress up for the occasion and use tartan to accent your outfit. If you’ve got any Scottish friends coming, ask them to wear their traditional gear.   


A couple toasting their friends at a dinner table

Toasts are a big part of the Burns Night party fun. Two, in particular, provide the most fun and laughter. The Toast to the Lasses and the Reply from the Lasses are performed by one male and one female guest. The idea is that one of the men thanks the women for their involvement, while gently poking fun at them. A female guest will then do the same. Extra points are awarded for Burns’s references and humour. Always remember to keep it classy and light-hearted. The speeches take a little work as they must be written beforehand. Ask for volunteers to fulfil the role, then give them enough time to write their speeches.   


A book of poetry with glasses on the page

The Burns Night party is about celebrating the man and his words, and here are a few classics. Do some research into each so you’ll have a few interesting facts to share with your guests. You can even assign a poem to a couple or a team of two. Each couple or team must then recite the poem. The traditional Scottish dialect poems can be challenging to read and understand. Consider having the traditional and the English versions on hand for the night.   

The Selkirk Grace  

The Selkirk Grace is said before dinner. Robert Burns didn’t actually write this one, but he made it famous.  

Address to Haggis  

The Address to Haggis is performed after the haggis has been piped in and presented on the dinner table. It is one of Rabbie’s most famous works about his beloved haggis.   

Auld Lang Syne  

Auld Lang Syne is the New Year’s song we all know, but no one really knows the correct lyrics. It’s sung at the end of the night.   

To a Mouse  

To a Mouse is a sombre poem about best-laid plans not working out. Legend has it that Burns composed it while ploughing his field.   

Tam O’Shanter  

Tam O’Shanter is a poem about Tom’s walk home after a night at the pub. On his way, he encounters all sorts of supernatural beings, including the devil playing the bagpipes.   


A Burns Night party is a celebration where friends and family come together to celebrate the life of Scotland’s most famous poet. Many traditions go along with the evening and our handy list above will help you host your best Burns Night party, yet.

Burns Night is a celebration, so it makes sense to dress up for the occasion. Burns was a Scotsman living in the 19th century so take your style cues from that era. Tartan is a staple, and it can be used in various ways from the traditional kilt to a pair of pants or scarf.

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