With scotch in hand, David Rhoderick approached the podium in the Baylies Room of the Old Whaling Church, adjusted the microphone and proclaimed the Ode Tae a Haggis.

“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!” he exclaimed in the Scots dialect of poet Robert Burns, wielding his haggis knife. “O what a glorious sight, Warm-reekin, rich!”

As servers came round to tables with haggis warm and fragrant, and Edgartown police chief Bruce McNamee played a bagpipe accompaniment, the 36th annual Burns Nicht (Burns Night) was kicked off on Saturday evening.

As the Scottish diaspora traveled around the globe, the tradition of the Burns Nicht followed them, a celebration each January of the life and legacy of Scotland’s revered poet, Robert Burns. On the Island, the annual tradition by the Scottish Society of Martha’s Vineyard began in 1988.

The lassies toasting the laddies. — Ray Ewing

In addition to the revelry, the event is the major fundraiser for the society, filling the coffers of the group’s scholarship fund for local students with Scottish ancestry or affinity.

Scottish cuisine is the centerpiece of the evening, with haggis (a warm pudding of cut oats and animal organs) serving as amuse bouche before the cock-a-leekie (or chicken and leek) soup course. For the main course, prime rib, chicken or smoked Finnan Haddie (haddock) were served with a side of tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips). A decadent sherry trifle rounded out Chef Thomas Engley’s hearty menu.

As guests ate, Chris Scott took the stand, leading the charity raffle and auction for kilts, scotch, artwork and tartan. Among the most coveted items was a harbor cruise on Work Boat Loyal with longtime Scottish Society member Steve Ewing.

The evening festivities raised $5,000 for the scholarship fund.

Following the meal, the Burns Nicht celebration proper began. Colin Ewing (brother to Steve) kicked off the program with a toast to the president, and Donna Blackburn gave the Society’s first toast to King Charles (its entire previous history had been in the reign of Queen Elizabeth). Ms. Blackburn composed her own poem to ring in the new monarch.

Chris Scott leads the fundraising auction. — Thomas Humphrey

Toasts thus made, the musical portion of the evening commenced, a tribute to the works of Mr. Burns by Scottish Society Singers, led by longtime director Phillip Dietterich.  

“Savor these sounds. May your ears gladden, and drape your soul with joy,” Mr. Dietterich said, playing keyboard accompaniment to each poem, often joined on the whistle by Scottish Society president Dorian Lopes. Mr. Dietterich received a standing ovation as Mr. Lopes spoke of the outsized role his musical mentorship and talent has had on the society.

The keynote speech was delivered by David Roy, who flew in from Scotland for his third Vineyard Burns Nicht this year. Mr. Roy spoke about the use of nature in Mr. Burns poetry.

“Burns was a farmer and he worked outside,” Mr. Roy said. “The weather in Scotland is quite brutal and you think he would quite resent it, but much of his poetry...is full of bird song and glorious landscape and magic waterfalls.”

Edgartown police chief Bruce McNamee brings a bagpipe serenade to the ceremony. — Ray Ewing

Mr. Roy used Mr. Burns famous poem To a Mouse as an example of his empathy for even the smallest creatures. That empathy, the poet’s ability to put himself in the shoes of a mouse or a daisy, Mr. Roy said, should serve as inspiration for our own relationship with nature.

Steve Ewing also recited a poetic toast, his own composition called Scots Around the World, which memorialized the Burns Nicht tradition on the Vineyard.

“Where whiskey flows like water; fresh as highland streams; the pipes they screech and holler; songs rise in Scottish dreams; in the dreary dead of winter; we toast our Robbie Burns; the bard of our sweet homeland; where highland hearts return.”

More pictures.