How to celebrate Burns Night at your care home?

On 25 January 1759, one of Scotland’s most famous poets was born. Robert (‘Rabbie’) Burns. He was much celebrated and wrote several very well-known poems, including the words to Auld Lang Syne, which is traditionally sung at New Year. He also wrote ‘Address to a Haggis’, feting one of Scotland’s most traditional dishes – a savoury pudding based on meat from a sheep’s heart and liver, minced with onions, oatmeal, suet and spices.

In 1801, five years after the ebullient poet died, Burns’ friends gathered on his birthday to mark his eventful life with a supper, performance of his works and a speech in his honour. The tradition caught on, and is now a firm fixture in the calendar of many Scots. This Burns Night, why not hold your own supper, speeches and celebrations in your care home?

From haggis, neeps and tatties (more of which later…) to poetry, tartan and films, there are plenty of ways to bring a touch of Scottish fun into the cold and dreary month of January. Make arranging everything  even easier by using your digital care management software to keep track of plans and ideas.

Toasting the haggis

A central focus to a Burns Night supper is giving a toast to the central ingredient – the haggis. This dish is traditionally served with neeps (more commonly known as swedes or turnips) and tatties – or potatoes – normally served mashed to help soak up the copious quantities of gravy that is served to help bring out the flavours and juices from the haggis. Sometimes, the neeps and tatties are mashed together. When the meal is ready, someone will rise to their feet and perform the famous ‘Address to a Haggis’ poem (see below). The haggis itself is piped in with a traditional Scottish tune on a silver platter. Dessert, a traditional cheese board and a tot of whisky for everyone then all follow the main haggis course.

Poems and speeches

As with any get-together of this nature, Burns Night offers a great opportunity to introduce some entertainment, either from staff, residents or external visitors. In this case, inviting someone who enjoys reading poetry aloud to recite ‘Address to a Haggis’ will really help set the scene. You could also add other readings of Burns’ poetry, or other Scottish masterpieces. Add a musical note with a recording of some bagpipes or Scottish folk dance tunes – if you can find someone willing and able to provide live music, even better! Round off the meal with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

If you are unfamiliar with the words of ‘Address to a Haggis’, here they are (in full Scottish dialect) to offer some inspiration:

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, o what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Films and fun

Whet residents’ appetites for all things Scottish with an afternoon of themed films, photographs or sharing stories of time spent in Scotland. Some Scottish-themed film ideas could include Braveheart, Brave, Highlander, Brigadoon, Outlaw King, Rob Roy and Mary, Queen of Scots. Alternatively, ask residents and their families if they have any photos, souvenirs or home video footage from their own visits to Scotland that they could bring in to share. Decorate the room where you will be showing the films with tartan ribbons, garlands and sprigs of winter-blooming heather. Other ideas could be sharing favourite poems from other Scottish writers, or extract from books set in Scotland. Or hold a quiz with rounds themed around ‘Rabbie’ Burns, Scotland, poetry and food. There is certainly plenty of scope for planning plenty of Burns-themed fun that will suit all appetites, this 25 January!

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