Auld Lang Syne

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"Auld Lang Syne"

At many New Year's Eve parties, the song "Auld Lang Syne" is played or sung at midnight, as a means of saying farewell to the old year and greeting the new. The phrase "auld lang syne" is Scottish dialect for "old long ago." The song itself is attributed to Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scotland's most famous poet.

Robert Burns's Restoration

Burns scholars recognize that the poet did not write the entire song. They point to a letter that Burns wrote to a friend in which Burns admits as much. Rather, he found a fragment of an old folk ditty, restored it, and added new verses. In the letter, Burns paid high tribute to the anonymous writer of the brief text that he elaborated on:

Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it that in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians [Robert Burns Encyclopedia web page].

No one knows exactly how much of the song was written by Burns, but scholars believe that the poet definitely wrote what are now the song's third and fourth verses.

Though Burns paired his lyrics with an already existing Scottish folk tune, his editor decided to publish them with a different old Scottish folk melody, the one we still use today. In Scotland the popularity of "Auld Lang Syne" grew over the years, until it displaced "Good Night and Joy Be Wi' You A'" as the song traditionally sung at the break up of a festive gathering.

Words to the Song

Subsequent generations of singers have made slight changes to Burns's original poetry. The verses to the entire song, as penned by Burns, follow: (Standard English Translation) Should auld acquaintance be Should old acquaintances be forgot And never brought to mind? And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be Should old acquaintances be forgot And days o auld lang syne? And days of old long ago?

Chorus (repeated after each verse) And for auld lang syne, my jo And for old long past, my joy, For auld lang syne, For old long ago. We'll tak a cup o kindness yet, We will take a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne. For old long ago.

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

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

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

And there's a hand, my trusty And there is a hand, my trusty fiere! And gie's a hand o thine! And give me a hand of yours! And we'll tak a right guid And we will take a right willie waught, For auld lang syne. For old long ago.

"Auld Lang Syne" Becomes an American New Year's Song

So how did this old Scottish tune become so well known in America? The answer lies in the power of television to publicize and promote. In 1943, the New Year's Eve festivities taking place in New York City's Times Square were televised for the first time. As viewers waited for midnight to arrive, they were treated to coverage of Guy Lombardo's dance band, playing live at the Grill Room of the Roosevelt Hotel (in later years the venue changed to the WaldorfAstoria Hotel). Guy Lombardo decided to close out his New Year's Eve performances with the tune "Auld Lang Syne." Having grown up in western Ontario, a region of Canada with a significant population of Scottish descent, he was familiar with the tune. In fact, when playing locally he frequently ended his performances with the song. Although he doubted that many Americans were familiar with "Auld Lang Syne," he played it anyway as a way of musically tipping his hat to the broadcast's corporate sponsor, Robert Burns's Panatella cigars. Guy Lombardo and his dance band became a fixture on these New Year's Eve broadcasts, and so did the song "Auld Lang Syne." This yearly television exposure encouraged Americans to adopt as their own the custom of singing "Auld Lang Syne" to bid farewell to the old year.

Further Reading

Pool, Daniel. Christmas in New York. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1997.

Web Sites

"Burns Country," a web site devoted to the promotion and enjoyment of the works of Robert Burns, includes the "Auld Lang Syne" entry from the Robert Burns Encyclopedia: LangSyne.5.shtml

The World Burns Club furnishes a history of the song "Auld Lang Syne" on its web site: what_about.htm

Auld Lang Syne

closing song of New Year’s Eve. [Music: Leach, 91]