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For Auld Lang Syne

posted Dec 31, 2011, 8:20 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 1:34 PM ]
Second only to Happy Birthday as the most widely known song in the English speaking world; most people throughout the civilized world either sing it or hear every New Year's Eve. Yet few of us actually know what these three words are all about…

Translated literally, the title means “old long since.” As it appears in the chorus of the song, For auld lang syne loosely translates to “For (the sake of) old times.”  The song begins by posing two rhetorical questions as to whether it is right that old times be forgotten; since by remembering the past, we reaffirm the importance of our future, and those important to us.  

Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, “restored” the text around 1788 from fragments of old ballads dating as far back as 15th century Scotland, and set it to a traditional folk song.   However, his lyrics were paired with the more famous melody we sing today by George Thompson in his 1799 publication A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs.

Singing the song on New Year’s Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles.  And as people immigrated to the new world, they took the song with them.  Beginning in 1929, just two months after the stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression, Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is credited for cementing its popularity as an expression of hope though his annual New Year’s Eve broadcasts on radio and later, television.

As well as celebrating the New Year, it’s widely used to symbolize other “ending/new beginnings,” and is often sung at funerals; graduations; Boy Scout gatherings; the election of a new government; the last lowering of the old flag when a Colony achieves independence; and even the closing of a retail store!

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.