Auld Lang what now? The story of a New Year's song
A new year is almost upon us, and if you plan to celebrate, that means a champagne toast and kisses at midnight followed by a drunken mumbling through the lyrics of "Auld Lang Syne." Why mumbling? Because if you are like most Americans, and people around the globe for that matter, you don't know all of the lyrics — or for that matter the meaning — of this New Year's Eve standard.
Never fear. TucsonSentinel.com is here to inform you of the history, meaning and lyrics of this Scottish classic, just in time to impress your friends this holiday.
The Scots bard
One of the reason the song may seem hard to understand is that it is written in an old Scots dialect. This was the style of Robert Burns, the great 18th century Scottish poet, who is largely responsible for bringing this song to the modern world. He spent the last 10 years of his short life — he died at the age of 37 — collecting, transcribing and "mending" traditional Scottish songs and poems. Although Burns claimed to have simply written it down the words after hearing "an old man's singing," it is widely believed he had more to do with the distinctive lyrics.
The Burns version of the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne were first published in 1796, shortly after his death. But the words and melody we know today came together as part of a collection of Scottish songs printed by an Edinburgh-based music seller named George Thompson in 1799.
Why we sing it today
According to several Burns experts, two things lead to the popularity of "Auld Lang Syne." To start, Robert Burns was a favorite among American industrialists, such as William Randolph Hearst and Andrew Carnegie, who collected his manuscripts. They were responsible for bringing Burn's work into vogue in New York high society between the 1880s and the Great Depression.
But perhaps more influential was the decision of Canadian band-leader Guy Lombardo to use the song on his annual New Year's Eve radio show beginning in 1929 when it was played at midnight between broadcasts. It was played by Lombardo's band at midnight every year there after until his last New Year's Eve show in 1976. By then — it was tradition.
The words Auld Lang Syne translate as Old Long Since and basically means "times gone by." Read the translation and you will find it is a song about remembering, and perhaps longing for, good friends and good times of long ago. So this New Year's Eve, sing along while you hold a hand and raise a glass, and have a toast to all that's past. What could be more appropriate as we say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new?