Auld Lang Syne

On December 31st, as the earth rotated through its 24 time zones, millions of people took their turn at the stroke of midnight and sang an age-old song, a bittersweet song we have all heard, to welcome the New Year and honor old friends. The song of course is Auld Lang Syne.

The anonymous ancient Scot who created the notes of "Auld Lang Syne" somehow hit upon an innate human melody, equivalent to the meadowlark's song, the rooster's sunrise salute and the mating call of the moose.

In researching this song I found that the Scottish poet and Freemason, Robert Burns first published the song in 1796, but its true genesis is not definitively known. Burns published the song after hearing an old man singing it in a tavern Robert Burns in the Ayrshire area of Scotland. And like so many folk tunes, it could have been born hundreds of years before that. Burns himself wrote to a friend that the song was "an old song, of the olden times, which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man."

The revived song became popular in Scotland especially for Hogmanay festivities, which is the Scottish New Years, to revere friends of long, long ago.

The song has since spread to many countries around the globe, especially the English-speaking ones, and is sung, not only on the last day of the year, but as a sentimental piece at farewell parties, graduations, reunions and funerals. The lyrics have been translated and in some cases, completely replaced.

The melody was once used for the national anthem of South Korea, according to Wikipedia. Japanese stores and restaurants play the tune over their P.A. systems to usher out customers at closing time. And it's a familiar tune in Chile, Taiwan and Zimbabwe.

Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians Orchestra popularized "Auld Lang Syne" in America, making it the theme song of his Guy Lombardo New Year's Eve radio shows beginning in 1929. For many years Americans would include his radio or TV show as part of their New Year's Eve house parties, especially at the midnight countdown. Guy Lombardo died in 1977 and the orchestra disbanded a few years later, but his recording of the venerable song is still played at Manhattan's Time Square celebration on the big night.

The Scots have another tradition related to "Auld Lang Syne". When Scots sing the song on New Year's Eve, they form a circle and join hands. During the last verse each person crosses his or her arms across their breasts and join hands again with those next to them. As the song ends, all move to the center, still holding hands, and then back to the outer circle formation with hands still clasped. At this point each person turns under the joined arms until he or she is facing outward.

The song itself remains, still, an enigma for most people. The song's Scots title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long long ago", "days gone by" or "old times". Consequently "For auld lang syne", as it appears in the first line of the chorus is, in essence, singing, "for the sake of old times" or "for long, long ago."

But if we look a little more deeply at the translation, we find a stronger sentiment, one of hope and one of dedication to those who are with us in this moment.

Scottish Verse (Translation)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, (Should old acquaintance be forgot,)
And never brought to mind? (And never brought to mind?)
Should auld acquaintance be forgot (Should old acquaintance be forgot,)
And auld lang syne. (And long, long ago.)

For auld lang syne, my jo, (And for long, long ago, my dear)
For auld lang syne, (For long, long ago,)
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, (We'll take a cup of kindness yet,)
For auld lang syne. (For long, long ago.)

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp! (And surely you'll buy your pint-jug!)
And surely I'll be mine! (And surely I'll buy mine!)
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, (And we'll take a cup of kindness yet,)
For auld lang syne. (For long, long ago.)


We twa hae run about the braes (We two have run about the hills)
And pu'd the gowans fine; (And pulled the daisies fine;)
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit (But we've wandered many the weary foot)
Sin auld lang syne. (Since long, long ago.)

I we twa hae paidl'd i' the burn, (We two have paddled in the stream,)
Frae mornin' sun till dine; (From morning sun till dusk;)
But seas between us braid hae roar'd (But seas between us broad have roared)
Sin auld lang syne. (Since long, long ago.)


And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! (And there's a hand, my trusty friend!)
And gie's a hand o' thine! (And give us a hand of yours!)
And we'll tak a right guid willy waught, (And we'll take a draught of good-will)
For auld lang syne. (For long, long ago.)

So what has my research into this tradition truly revealed?

It is often remarked that "Auld Lang Syne" is one of the most popular songs that nobody knows the lyrics to let alone the meaning of. The song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness, "For auld lang syne, we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet."

The lesser known verses continue this theme, lamenting how friends who once used to run about the hills and pulled up the daisies and paddled in the stream from morning to dusk, have become divided by time and distance. Yet there is always time for old friends to get together, if not in person then in memory, and "tak a right guid-willie waught" (a good-will drink).

For me, a man who has learned more than his fair share of life's lessons, it is this; in the final analysis the only thing that really matters is relationships. Relationships give character and fullness to life. Without the interaction with fellow human beings there is no "life" to life. It is people interacting with people; that is at the foundation of society.

Unfortunately most of us take our relationships for granted. Most people treat those they know the best the worst. Spouse, children, family and close friends - we hardly give a thought to what life would be like if we had never enjoyed these relationships.

In closing, to you all I wish:

That the calluses of your life be rubbed away;

That the beauty of your life find a place in your heart,
and are remembered from day to day.

And may the road that stretches out ahead,
be filled with nothing but kindness instead.

Happy New Year to one and all

Fraternally and Sincerely,
David Parker, PM