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The Origins of “Auld Lang Syne”

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

 

It’s the New Year’s tradition that nobody completely understands. Revelers sing “Auld Lang Syne” when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, but to most, the words’ meaning is a mystery.

Translated literally, the Scottish term auld lang syne means “days gone by” or “old times”.

The song is a classic Scottish folk tune with a warm, welcoming melody that has equal parts nostalgia and hope. The lyrics honor friendships and good times.

It was written by the poet Robert Burns in the 18th century. Burns has become well-known for a number of his poems and songs, but Auld Lang Syne is certainly one of his most well-loved and practiced songs. Burns claimed to have written down the song from “an old man” singing the tune, though it’s clear to historians that Burns wrote some of the lines himself.

The song is not sung only on New Year’s; its major theme is its signal of endings or fresh starts. This includes such rituals as funerals, graduations, and more.

Burns himself was quite fond of Auld Lang Syne. He wrote “… is not the Scots phrase, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, exceedingly expressive – there is an old song and tune which has often thrilled thro’ my soul.” (source) Perhaps that’s why the song has stuck with us for all this time — and sticks in people’s heads, even if nobody knows the lyrics.

(P.S. If you’re looking for vintage New Year’s postcards, look no further!)

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