Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Meaning of Auld Lang Syne

Every New Year's Eve, people sing one of the most popular songs of all time - “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?", but don't think too much about the song's meaning. We're too busy ringing in the New Year to care. But "Auld Lang Syne" has a great history, one that we should learn.

The lyrics were originally published as a Scottish poem in 1788 by Robert Burns and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. The words Auld Lang Syne literally translates from old Scottish dialect meaning old long-ago or old long-since. The context of the song is about love and friendship in past times.

A modern day translation would be for old times' sake or to the good old days. In Scotland, in addition to New Year's Eve, it is also sung on Burns Night, January 25th, to celebrate the life of the famous author and  poet.  The lyrics are more of a collection of works than a single composition. It shows some similarity to James Watsons's Old Long Syne printed in 1711. Burns' version builds on earlier works. Poems and songs with somewhat similar text have been found dating back as far as anonymous ballad in the Bannatyne Manuscript of 1568.

Another version, the first that contains a form of the 'auld lang syne' phrase, is attributed to the courtly poet Sir Robert Ayton (1570 - 1638). Most of the poem though, was credited to Burns. Singing the song to celebrate the New Year (Hogmanay in Scotland) quickly became a Scots custom and was spread to the rest of the world.

Some countries that sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight on New Year's day include the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, India and Pakistan. In other countries, it is sung in different occasions. In Brazil, Portugal, France, Spain, Greece, Poland, and Germany, this song is used to mark a farewell. The tune of the song is another story. The melody alone is being used in different contexts all over the world. In the US, it is used as a song of remembrance during 9-11 memorials and other memorial events. A pub variation of the song is a very popular one too, and is sung in pubs across Scotland, England, and the US.

Within the US, the song is associated with bandleader Guy Lombardo - who heard the tune and couldn’t get it out of his head and arranged the piece for his orchestra in 1929. After that, whenever Lombardo performed at a New Year’s Eve event, he would play “Auld Lang Syne” around midnight, cementing the song as a yearly institution that helps to usher in each year.

Here are the original words to Auld Lang Syne with the translated English meaning. Let's not just sing the words, but  recognize the historical significance of the words and allow ourselves to sing with our hearts by commemorating friendships we've had through the years. May we always be grateful for those close to us and keep the bond between us and them throughout the year.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

(Should old acquaintances be forgotten)
(and never remembered)
(Should old acquaintance be forgotten)
(For old long ago)

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

(For old long ago, my dear)
( For old long ago)
(We will take a cup of kindness yet)
(For old long ago)

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

(And surely you will pay for your pint-vessel)!
(And surely I will pay for mine!)
(And we will take a cup of kindness yet,)
(For old long past.)

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

(We two have run about the hills)
(and pulled the daisies fine)
(but we've wandered many a weary foot)
(since old long ago)

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

(We two have paddled in the stream)
(from morning sun (noon) until dinner-time)
(but seas between us broad have roared)
(since old long ago)

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

(And there is a hand my trusty friend)
(And give me a hand of yours)
(And we will take of a good drink/toast)
(For old long ago)

As a bonus, here's a video of the original song with lyrics, sung by Doug MacLean


  1. enjoyed reading this true less and less people are singing this i only know the 1st verse i will make big effort to make sure sung tonight !!

  2. How can a song haunt the whole world!!

  3. the new year song indeed.

  4. Thank you! I was actually thinking about this song and how it came about earlier today. What a beautiful sentiment!


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