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Let’s Celebrate: How Live Events Bring Burns Night to Life

Let’s Celebrate: How Live Events Bring Burns Night to Life

Two Scottish nationals talk us through the annual celebration

Written by: Lesley Mason and Nicola MacDonald 

We all know that live, face-to-face experiences have the unique ability to connect people in meaningful ways, and this is especially the case when it comes to cultural celebrations — no matter where in the world they take place, there’s always a live element that embodies the occasion and remains in attendees’ memories for years to come.

In the lead up to Burns Night, a Scottish event that takes place on 25 January each year and acts as a celebration of ‘the Shakespeare of Scotland’ — poet Robert Burns, we spoke to our own in-house Scot, Lesley Mason, Client Services Director and Scottish-born Nicola Macdonald, Reporter at event industry publications Access All Areas and Exhibition News about the tradition, and the ways that events add to the celebration.

Q. Why is Burns Night such an important part of Scottish culture?

Lesley: It really sums up what the Scots are all about — it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate being Scottish. Burns’ Night suppers are a very hospitable affair full of food, drink, and laughter as we remember the iconic poet Robert Burns through sing, dance, and readings.

Nicola: I see Burns Night as similar to Thanksgiving in the U.S. It’s a chance to get together with close family and friends and be thankful for what you have, while also having a laugh with each other. Plus, it's nice to have a bit of a party to look forward to at the end of January!

Burns’ most famous poem is Auld Lang Syne, which is essentially a toast to absent friends. People also often say the Selkirk Grace by Robert Burns, which is a reminder that you have food on your table when plenty of people around the world don't. 

Q. How is the evening typically celebrated?

N: Since moving to London I’ve celebrated with my little contingent of friends down here; most are Scottish but some aren't. Last year I cooked haggis, neeps, and tatties —otherwise known as haggis, turnip and mashed potato — for 15 people, which was ambitious but successful. 

Each city and town will have their own unique events to celebrate the day, although most of them will feature whiskey, food, and dancing to some degree.

L: Just as the brand experiences we deliver for our clients need to be interactive, your typical Burns Night supper relies on participation from guests. Different people are allocated particular roles, whether it is giving an address, reading a Burns poem or helping to prepare the evening meal.

An event needs to be carefully planned and structured to be successful, and this is definitely the case when it comes to Burns Night. It must include the ‘Address to the Haggis’, where a nominated guest recites the address, which is an excerpt from a Burns’ poem, and they cut into the Haggis. After supper, there are a few different toasts — including the Immortal Memory, which is dedicated to Burn’s himself, the Address to the Lassies, which was traditionally designed as a way of thanking the women for cooking the night’s meal, and the Reply to the Laddies, which is delivered by a female guest. These days, both speeches tend to be humorous and are designed to entertain guests, and there are lots of poems and anecdotes throughout, too.

Q. What role do live events play in the annual celebrations?

L: Burns Night couldn’t exist without events. The atmosphere at these suppers is what makes them so memorable and unique year after year and the quality of the speeches is paramount — it’s much like experience design in that while speakers are given the subject matter — or brief — for their address, it’s their job to make it relevant to the audience. The experience just wouldn’t be the same if it were to be carried out over a conference call.

In recent year’s I’ve seen Burns Night expand to England and further abroad. The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) for example, host a great do in London every year — it’s their way of sharing Scottish culture with others. 

N: Burns Night events tend to either be theatrical performances and celebrations of Burns' works or ceilidh dances — a type of traditional Scottish folk dance. Either way, the main function is to get people together and to have fun in an ostentatiously Scottish way. 

A lot of brands, such as the street food company Kerb, are putting their own twist on Burns Night with one-off events. Others seem to be creating special products just for the occasion. I saw one company offering Burns Night cocktails, which is intriguing. 

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