Behind the Song: Auld Lang Syne

Every year we sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Day, but where did it come from?

Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem that was written by Robert Burns in 1788.  His poem was set to a traditional folk song.  Music

Robert Burns
Robert Burns

historians are unsure if the melody used today is the original melody Burns set to the song or not.  The original tune is believed to be more subdued and nostalgic and is still sung from time to time.

Robert Burns admitted that some of the lyrics he uses in the song were collected from others.  He sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum.  He included the following remark with the song, “The following song, 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.”

The auld Scots translated into English means “long long ago” and “days gone by.”

The song begins with a reminder to remember the old times, lest they be forgotten.  Another reminder in the song is to remember long standing friendships.

Parts of the tune have been repeated in other musical compositions over the course of time.

Auld Lang SyneSinging the song on New Year’s Eve, or as the Scots say Hogmanay, quickly became a Scots custom.  This custom then spread throughout the British Isles, and other parts of the world as people emigrated.

Guy Lombardo popularized the song in 1929, when he played the song to segue between two radio programs of liver performances.

This song is well known in the majority of English speaking countries.  While mainly sung on New Year’s Eve, the song has also been used for graduations, funerals, retirement, and other occasions where you will say goodbye.

It is common, especially in Scotland, for everyone to join hands while singing the song.  On the last verse, everyone crosses their hands so that the left hand holds that of the person on the right and vice versa.  The ritual of this is the semblance of shaking hands with everyone.

Other times Auld Lang Syne is sung is at a Burn’s dinner, the end of a ceilidh {dance} in Scotland, and the end of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

There are several ways to sing the song, these include American English, Old English and Scots.  The lyrics have also been translated into other languages.

auld lang syne plaque

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