‘Burns Night is the Scottish Christmas’: Poet's birthday brings haggis boom

The lead up to Burns Night is the busiest time of the year for haggis producers.

Millions of people in Scotland and across the world will enjoy a hearty meal of haggis, neeps and tatties on Thursday as they celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns. 

Macsween of Edinburgh has been preparing for the big night for months. 

“We go from doing about 50,000 units a week, every other week of the year, and then we end up packing about 50,000 units a day,” managing director James Macsween told Scotland Tonight.

“The step up in volume is massive and as soon as one Burns is over, we start getting ready for the next.”

The Macsween family have been making haggis for three generations. 

“Every haggis producer in the country owes a huge debt of gratitude to Burns,” said James.

“I think he was flabbergasted or maybe disgusted as to how French cuisine was taking such a foothold in the aristocratic diet in Edinburgh and he was horrified that not enough haggis was being consumed.

“If it wasn’t for Burns writing Address to a Haggis and then the men that celebrated the first Burns supper, there wouldn’t be a category in the supermarkets.”

Burns’ cottage.

It was back in 1801 that the first ever Burns Supper was held at Robert’s childhood cottage in Alloway, South Ayrshire. Nine of the poet’s friends got together to mark the fifth anniversary of his death. 

Burns fathered 12 children with four different women. Today, he’s thought to have 900 living descendants, including American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger.

“Burns is obviously a bit of a womaniser. He loved women and they loved him back. He was young, educated and very charismatic. It was his fascination and adoration of the opposite sex that actually inspired him to write some of his most famous poems and songs,” says Andy The Highlander, who spends his time promoting Scotland to the world.

Andy, who grew up in Ayrshire, took the Scotland Tonight crew on a tour of Burns’ cottage. 

Andy the Highlander.

When asked if Burns would be as popular if he were alive today, Andy said: ‘Things were different back then. This was 200 years ago.

“Burns was a product of his time. If he saw an opportunity, he went for it. It’s obviously a different world now. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all have a bit too much to drink sometimes. And I think a lot of people can relate to Burns. So I think he would be very popular today amongst certain circles.”

Burns began writing poetry when he was just 15. He often focused on issues affecting the poor and the need for social equality – but many poems were also about women he took a shine to. 

Andy added: “People have been reading Burns’ works for over 200 years and have deemed his work worthy of remembering and worthy of celebrating. There are more statues of Rabbie Burns worldwide than any non-religious figure, apart from Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus.”

Traditionally, only men would be invited to join a Burns Supper. But in more recent years they’ve evolved to become far more inclusive.

The Beatson Cancer Charity in Glasgow hosted such an event a few days early in Glasgow. Around 400 people attended the charity’s Burns Supper and more than £69,000 was raised. 

The event began with an address to the haggis by 18-year-old Liam Kearney, who was crowned the Robert Burns World Federation Young Burnsian from 2019-2022. It was followed by Burns-related games, poem readings, ceilidh dancing and a traditional supper. 

Beatson Cancer Charity ceilidh.

Host Alison Walker said while the occasion has changed with the times, the message behind it remains the same.

She said: “We still have the same social issues, and the same problems, and actually if you have a bit of fun and lightness through addressing it, in his songs and poetry it’s a bit of light relief.

“He’s a social commentator, and he’s still as relevant today as he was all those years ago.

“We are very lucky to have him, and we need to keep making a fuss, because he is really, really important.”

Join Scotland Tonight at 8.30pm on STV as they celebrate Burns Night and explore how relevant the poet is in 2024. The programme is also available on the STV Player.

@stvnews

Scottish charity surprised Glasgow shoppers with ‘flash mob’ ahead of Burns Night. #burnsnight #glasgow #stenochcentre #charity #spinabifida #spinabifidaawareness #stv #stvnews #scotland

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