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Auld Lang Syne: The Song Nobody Knows

What is Auld Lang Syne about, anyway?

By:  |  December 30, 2020  |    444 Words

There are a lot of Christmas carols, but there’s only one New Year’s song: “Auld Lang Syne.” This song was written hundreds of years ago and is often called the song that nobody knows – so how is it a New Year tradition today?

The title – and best-known phrase – translates literally to “old long since,” but a more literary interpretation could be “since long ago” or “for old times’ sake,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Story Of “Auld Lang Syne”

“Auld Lang Syne” was first written down by Robert Burns, the 18th-century Scottish poet. He sent the song to music publisher James Johnson for inclusion in the Scots Musical Museum compilation. He described it as “an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.”

Folk music fans know that the genre is often messy, with multiple versions of songs and mismatched words frequently appearing over the years. “Auld Lang Syne” is no exception. The music is somewhat of a mystery, as the tune we use today is different from the one featured by Johnson.

“Auld Lang Syne” was a huge success in Scotland, where it became part of the country’s New Year’s Eve celebration, Hogmanay. The song’s popularity spread through Britain and, eventually, to America. Burns himself became a Scottish icon. He was voted by Scotland’s STV audience in 2009 to be the greatest Scot of all time. He even beat William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and January 25 is celebrated as Burns Night.

Translations vary, but let us finish by publishing the complete Burns poem/song in English (mostly), in the hope that it won’t offend any Scot who may be reading:

“Auld Lang Syne”

By Robert Burns

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

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.

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