If you’re like us, you’re going to go to a New Year’s Eve party tonight, and as soon as the calendar turns over, somebody will inevitably start slurring the tune “Auld Lang Syne” because they thought they heard it in a movie or something (perhaps “200 Cigarettes” was on TV earlier in the day). But people very rarely nail down the correct melody, nor do they know all of the words. And what does “Auld Lang Syne” even mean?
Glad you asked! It began as a poem written by Scotland’s Robert Burns (pictured!) in 1788 (with a few of the lyrics cribbed from a James Watson ballad from 1711 called “Old Long Syne”). The tune is a traditional Scottish folk song, and it quickly gained popularity in the U.K. as a song sung at the end of the year as well as at funerals. As Brits emigrated to other parts of the globe, the tradition spread, and took hold in the United States as early as 1896. It didn’t become a popular American staple in this country until band leader Guy Lombardo played the tune during his year-end radio broadcast in 1929.
The title of the tune literally translates to “Old Long Since,” though people readily accept “Long Long Ago” or “In Olden Times” as reasonable transpositions. The first verse goes a little something like this: “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?/ Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of 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.” That second part is actually the chorus, but it usually just gets treated as another verse.
So enjoy this particular version of the song or fire up one yourself (it helps if you have bagpipes or a pump organ), and raise your glass to a successful 2009 and an even better 2010.