Burns Night – Celebrating the Nation’s Favourite Scot

It’s that time of the year, when Scots and Scots-at-heart gather to celebrate one of the country’s lyrical sensations and national treasure, Robert Burns. Born on a stormy night in Alloway on the 25th of January 1759, the 18th Century poet continues to touch people with his timeless prose, illustrating topics such as injustice, hypocrisy and anticlericalism, as well as love, friendship and everyday life. Burns Night festivities have become an intrinsic part of Scotland’s Winter Festivals, reflecting the true essence of Scottish cultural identity – creativity, pride and confidence.

From 19-26 January, the Scottish Storytelling Centre will pay homage to Robert Burns with a feast of storytelling, music, workshops, dance and children’s events, celebrating his life and legacy in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Scottish Storytelling Centre’s Programme Manager Daniel Abercrombie, says:

Our Burns season is the perfect opportunity to celebrate and learn more about our National Bard. The wide range of activities in the programme – including workshops, family ceilidh and live storytelling – guarantees to engage and inspire people of all ages. Whether you’re a Burns aficionado or novice, get involved in our festivities and explore the richness of our cultural heritage.

Family Burns

Young and old, come join the Scots Music Group in the Storytelling Court for Café Ceilidh, a relaxed afternoon session of songs, poems and stories honouring the Bard, on Tue 22 Jan.

New Year’s traditions bring light, luck and warmth in dark times. On Burns Weekend, the Elderwise group of storytellers explore ancient and more recent traditions and folklore around the time of Hogmanay and midwinter, inviting kids aged 8+ and their families for A Cup O’ Kindness.    

Storyteller Jane Mathers says:

From the floer o’ the well to Hogmanay cheese, Scotland has many weird and wonderful customs to celebrate its midwinter festivities.

Though toasting in the New Year with whisky has long been popular, Auld Lang Syne and Burns suppers are more recent 19th Century additions and we wanted to explore why Burns has become such a significant part of modern New Year celebrations.

In the afternoon we’ll link arms and gather our live band for a Family Ceilidh, featuring some Burns tunes for dancing, peppered with the occasional story if there’s time around all the merry movement!

Burns for Biguns

The first Burns Supper took place 5 years after the anniversary of Burns’ death, when a group of his closest friends and admirers gathered in his cottage to celebrate the poet’s work and genius. For those unacquainted with the long-standing tradition or wanting to discover more about Burns, Supper with Burns on Thu 24 and Fri 25 Jan is the Centre’s traditional Burns Supper with a storytelling twist.

This 2017 and 2018 sell-out offers a chance to discover the real, radical spirit behind Burns’ sharp humour, as host and creator of the event David Campbell states:

Burns had a sense of egalitarianism and believed in freedom. His humanity was incredible and that really captures people’s imagination. Plus, his wry humour is also incisive, even today. Our Supper celebrates all this, with a welcome unparalleled for those wanting more with their haggis.

Along with a delicious three-course meal of Scottish delicacies, guests will enjoy a generous helping of Burns stories, songs and lore from storytellers David Campbell and Ruth Kirkpatrick, with music from clarsach player Katie Harrigan and a lively rendition of ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ by Donald Smith.

Taking Burns Further

Of course, Burns Night is a time to not only enjoy hearing the Bard’s poems and songs, but to try performing yourself. Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland have that covered with two fantastic workshops, in collaboration with Scotland’s Winter Festivals at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

In Tam O’ Shanter: Telling the Big Tale, Donald Smith shares his life’s journey with Burns, looking at the meaning and interpretation of his poetry, as well as performance and artistic challenges when trying to do Burn’s justice.


Tam O’ Shanter is an old Scottish legend which Robert Burns turned into his popular narrative poem. It follows Tam, a man who never heeds his wife Kate’s advice and stays out all hours drinking, who one-night chances on witches, gathered to dance to the devil’s bagpipes and he must flee for his life!

Speaking about the afternoon, Smith explains:

‘Everybody thinks they know about Burns, but we don’t really. He’s a much richer, broader topic than assumed and exploring Burns’ themes through one of his seminal works will showcase the genius of Scotland’s Bard, as well as inform participants in the subtleties of this classic.

Did you know that ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as one of the three most popular songs in the English language, along with ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’?

Often praised for his poetry, Burns was also a great master at penning songs and contributed over 100 lyrics to a book called The Melodies of Scotland. Both his songs and poems served as a source of inspiration to modern popular culture and musicians, as both Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson revealed that Burns had a significant impact on some of their work – rumour has it Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ was heavily influenced by Tam O’ Shanter!

If you’re looking to widen your musical horizon and you’re curious about the lyrical side of the Bard, performer Christine Kydd will take you through a full-day workshop of Singing the Bard: Resources & Skills, to explore his tunes.

Both at home and abroad, Robert Burns remains a celebrated and influential figure and we’re looking forward to welcoming you at our festivities, to engage with our rich cultural heritage here at the Scottish Storytelling Centre this January.


Tam O’Shanter: Telling the Big Tale
Sat 19 Jan | 2pm (2hrs 30) | £16 (£12 FM) | Storytelling Workshop
Café Ceilidh: Burns Celebration
Tue 22 Jan | 2pm (2hrs) | Free
Supper with Burns
Thu 24 & Fri 25 Jan | 7pm (2hrs 30) | £25
Guid Crack Storytelling Session
Fri 25 Jan | 7.30pm (2hrs 30) | By donation (suggest £5/£4)
Singing the Bard: Resources & Skills
Sat 26 Jan | 10.30am (6hrs) | £24 (£18 FM) | Music and Song Workshop
A Cup O’ Kindness
Sat 26 Jan | 12pm (1hr) | £5 | Adults and 8+
Family Ceilidh
Sat 26 Jan | 2.30pm (1hr 30) | £5 (£4.50 SCS) | All Ages