Burns’ Night


Every 25th January Scotland celebrates the life of the National Bard, Robert Burns with Burns’ Night; an entertaining evening of food, dancing and verse. It’s held on the anniversary of Burns’ birth. The celebrations were originally started by some of his close friends a few years after his death and now it is celebrated as Burns’ Night. You can join in with the festivities at many restaurants across Scotland that host formal Burns’ Night dinners or you could even organise your own Burns celebrations. I think that with some alternations to the traditional Burns’ Night set up you could have a very nice cultural class focused on listening, vocabulary and speaking.

Burns’ Night Menu

The star of the night of any good Burns’ Supper menu is the iconic haggis, or as the bard himself described it, the ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race’. Traditional accompaniments to the haggis are neeps and tatties more commonly known – turnip and potatoes. These are normally served mashed and a starter is a home-made Scots broth or cock-a-leekie soup. To round off your Burns’ Supper menu, pudding might consist of a traditional Clootie Dumpling, a classic cranachan or shortbread.

It might be difficult to host the full dinner in the class but you could pick up something like shortbread. You could organize a great bake off and ask for some volunteers to make shortbread (recipe here) at home and bring it to the class. If there are no brave bakers in your class, ask students to bring their national alternative of shortbread to the class. It’d also be a good opportunity to discuss the language of recipes in English.

Burns’ Supper Music

The haggis is traditionally piped in, which could prove difficult if neither anyone in the class can play the bagpipes or even have a set! However, there is no shortage of downloads of Robert Burns’ songs or more modern Scottish folk, which you can use to listen to or have in the background during the lesson. A rousing chorus of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (click here for lyrics) at the end of the night/lesson is a must.

Burns’ Supper Poems and Toasts

Traditional recitals on the evening include the Selkirk Grace and the Address to a Haggis (video), it’s a tricky text and read out loud while cutting haggis. It would be great to do a little bit with some more advance groups. Others include a speech commemorating Burns and a toast to the great man, known as the Immortal Memory and the Address to the Lassies.

Selkirk Grace

Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thank it

Burns’ Supper Dress: Tartan

It is definitely recommended that you wear at least a little bit of tartan! Whether it be a tartan hat, a tartan tie, napkins, hats, brooches or the full kilt get-up, it’s entirely up to you. Let your students be creative! Maybe you could organize an arts & crafts activity during the class.

Here is a typical run through and description of what is involved in a Burns’ Supper to include in your lesson.

You can even download the complete works of Robert Burns for free to your iPhone for an easy way to pick your readings. The iPhone/iPad app offering you 558 of his poems and love songs complete with a useful glossary of terms to help interpret the Scots dialect.

Some of my favourite Scottish words:

tatties= potatoes
lassie= girl
trews= trousers
wean= child

I celebrated my first Burns’ Night last year and am getting ready for this year!


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