For Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year, friends! Wow, I can’t believe 2018 is almost here. Another year. A new beginning. A fresh start. A blank page to write upon.

What will you write on your page this year?

A decorated latte sitting on a table next to a journal and pen.

Every year when the clock strikes midnight, people around the globe jubilantly ring in the new year by singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I wonder, though, how many of us actually know what we are singing about or where the song originated. I’m reminded of the humorous exchange between Billy Crystal’s and Meg Ryan’s character at the end of one of my favorite movies – “When Harry Met Sally.”

Harry: [about Auld Lang Syne] What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?

Sally: Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.

-from “When Harry Met Sally”, 1989

Roughly translated ‘for old times’ sake’ or ‘days gone by,’ “Auld Lang Syne” is about preserving old friendships, raising a glass, and looking back with nostalgia over the events of the year. It’s a celebration of the moment and gives us hope for the future. Joy, kinship, and camaraderie – even melancholy and regret – are just some of the feelings I think this song has the power to invoke. Such is the power of music.

Auld Lang Syne sheet music resting on the keys of a piano.

Like so many other good things that have come out of Scotland, so did this iconic tune.  It was 1788 when Scotland’s beloved poet, Robert Burns, first submitted the words to James Johnson, who was compiling a book of old Scottish songs called “The Scots Musical Museum.”  Written in the Scots language, Robert (or Rabbie, as I affectionately like to call him) was not the original composer of the song’s lyrics, but was the first to pen the words of a much older Scottish folk song.  Even though Burns submitted the words in 1788, the poem did not appear in print until shortly after his death in 1796.  Since then, “Auld Lang Syne” has been translated into many languages and is sung throughout the world.  I think ol’ Rabbie would have been pleased to know that.

Originally, the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” were set to a different tune than the one in which we are all familiar. If you do a Google search for recordings of the song, you will find a few slightly altered versions performed by some of today’s contemporary artists. My favorite is by Scottish musician Mairi Campbell. I read somewhere that her version may have been the original tune, but I don’t know if there is any truth in that. Anyway, I dare you to listen to it and not be moved.

Drawing of Robert Burns on a tea towel.

So how did a tune from Scotland find such fame throughout the world? Its initial popularity coincided with the age of Scottish emigration in the 19th century, particularly to the United States and Canada. With its roots firmly established in the hearts of the Scottish diaspora, the rest of us were simply to be the beneficiaries of this beautiful gift of poetry.

This weekend, every one of us will take our first steps into the new year. Whether you go boldly or tentatively, excitedly, or with reluctance, I hope you will see 2018 as a clean slate that is brimming with hope and possibility.

I sincerely wish each of you a happy new year, filled with joy, peace, and friendship. Because anyway, it’s about old friends.

“Auld Lang Syne”:  Scots Version

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne?  


For auld lang syne, my jo,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

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.

We twa hae run about the braes

And pu’d the gowans fine;

But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot

Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,

Frae mornin’ sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught,

For auld lang syne.

“Auld Lang Syne”:  English Version

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And old lang syne? (ie. ‘for old times’ sake)


For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

And surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,

And picked the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,

Since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,

From morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

Since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

For auld lang syne.



*Featured image courtesy of Pixabay

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