After new Covid measures were brought in to combat the Omicron variant, restrictions are easing in Scotland just in time for Burns Night.
Providing the trickiest of obstacles to such noble endeavours as Dry January and Veganuary, the celebrations of the poet are centred on rich, meaty food and enthusiastic whisky consumption.
Last year’s events were sadly curtailed by lockdown measures around the UK, but the rules should allow more substantial merriment this time around – here’s everything you need to know.
When is Burns Night 2022?
Burns Night falls on 25 January every year, marking Robert Burns’ date of birth, which in 2021 (the poet’s 262nd birthday) falls on a Monday.
It is thought to have first been observed by the Burns Club of Greenock in the Scottish Lowlands in 1802, six years after his death.
They staged their supper on 29 January, which they erroneously thought was his birthday – the following year, parish birth records set the matter straight.
The centrepiece of a traditional Burns Night is a Burns supper, which can be as lavish or low-key as desired, but generally involves three crucial elements: haggis, Scotch whisky and (of course) the poetry of the man himself.
Haggis, a rich, crumbly mix of sheep’s offal, spices and oats traditionally cooked in the animal’s stomach, is customarily served with fellow Scottish delicacies neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes).
Before it can be eaten guests rise to salute the minced offal with one of the night’s highlights: the reciting of Burns’ Address to a Haggis.
Starting with the lines “Fair Fa your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!”, the ode culminates with a whisky toast to kick off the savoury feast.
Although the Address is the most famous verse associated with the celebrations, the night also traditionally features his succinct Selkirk Grace:
Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
Following the meal, whisky usually takes centre-stage in an (increasingly raucous) series of toasts, building up to the “address to the lassies” and “reply to the laddies”.
The evening then traditionally culminates with more whisky and a recital of another Burns favourite – New Year’s Eve staple Auld Lang Syne – before dancing and general merriment ensues.
Who was Robert Burns?
Robert Burns, variously known as “Rabbie”, the “Bard of Ayrshire” and the “Ploughman Poet”, is Scotland’s best-known poet.
One of the pioneers of the Romantic movement of poetry, he wrote variously in Scots and dialectic English, and is celebrated around the world.
His best known works include “Auld Lang Syne”, “A Red, Red Rose”, “To a Mouse” (and “To A Louse”) and the longer poem “Tam o’ Shanter”.
Although he grew up in a farming family in Ayrshire, his parents ensured he received a decent education and his enthusiastic reading of figures such as Alexander Pope inspired him write poetry.
The publication of his first collection of poems in 1786 brought instant success, and made Burns famous across Scotland at the age of 27.
Such was the reception that Burns, a notorious womaniser, ditched a plan to abandon his pregnant future wife Jean Armour and flee to the West Indies with his lover Mary Campbell.
Instead, he made for Edinburgh, falling in with influential, wealthy friends and spending prodigiously, but after fathering an illegitimate child (the second of three sired during his life) he grew tired of life in the city.
Burns returned to Jean Armour – with whom he had a further nine children – and settled in Dumfriesshire, taking a job in Customs and Excise in 1789.
However, he continued his prodigious creative output, becoming one of the foremost lyric poets by writing a prodigious number of songs, usually arranged to traditional Scottish folk melodies.
A life of debauchery took its toll on Burns, and he died in 1796 at the age of just 37. In a 2009 TV poll the public chose him as the greatest of all Scots.