New Year’s Eve festivities peak when the official countdown of the clock begins. After the ball drops and midnight has arrived, revelers cheer to the new year and exchange kisses and well wishes.
Once such wishes have been exchanged, many people begin to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” But few know what “Auld Lang Syne” means or why it is sung on New Year’s Eve. Confusion regarding this song is almost as notable as the tradition of singing it. Many people mumble through the lyrics because they never bothered to learn them.
“Auld Lang Syne” is a Scottish composition that is well over 200 years old. Written by Robert Burns in the 1700s, the author never intended for the song to become a staple of the holiday season. It was originally a poem that was later put to the tune of a traditional folk song. The title translates roughly in English as “old long since,” or “long, long ago.” The song pays homage to times gone by and past experiences.
The song has been performed at group jamborees, funerals and other special occasions all over the world, but it is best known for its affiliation with New Year’s festivities. The man behind that affiliation may be Canadian musician Guy Lombardo, whose band used “Auld Lang Syne” as a bridge between two radio programs during a live New Year’s Eve performance in 1929. Coincidentally, the song was played directly after the clock struck midnight, laying the groundwork for a New Year’s Eve tradition. Now “Auld Lang Syne” has forever been tied to well-intentioned resolutions and sappy slaps on the back. Despite selling millions of records, Lombardo became more famous for his New Year’s Eve song than anything else.
Confusion over “Auld Lang Syne” remains to this day. It has been the butt of jokes in popular culture, even earning a nod in the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” Harry laments to Sally that he never quite understood what the song meant and ponders whether it is about forgetting about friends or remembering them. Sally sums it up by saying the song is simply about old friends.
That is the interpretation many New Year’s Eve celebrants embrace as they toast to the new year and sing their hearts out. For those who never bothered to learn or have forgotten the words to this staple of New Year’s celebrations, here is the popularized English translation sung most often.
“Auld Lang Syne”
Should old acquaintances be forgotten, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten, and days of old lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
We two have run about the hillsides and pulled the daisies fine,
But we have wandered many a weary foot for times gone by.
We two have paddled (waded) in the stream from noon until dinner time,
But seas between us broad have roared since
auld lang syne.
And there is a hand, my trusty friend,
And give us a hand of yours,
And we will take a goodwill drink
For auld lang syne.
And surely you will pay for your pint, and surely I will pay for mine!
And we will take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne.