Should auld acquaintance be forgot And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne? For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne, We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne.
“Auld Lang Syne” is sung every New Year’s Eve by revelers around the globe, but many may be unfamiliar with the exact meaning of the song’s key words.
Just what is auld lang syne, and why should it not be forgotten? Despite its popularity, the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” are still a mystery to many who struggle to recall all of its words on New Year’s Eve.
“Auld lang syne,” loosely translated from its original Scots Gaelic, means to remember times gone by. It’s no wonder, then, that this Scottish folk song has become the anthem for a New Year’s celebration. What better way to ring in the new year than by recalling old friends and toasting new ones?
The revered Scottish poet Robbie Burns has been credited with giving the words of “Auld Lang Syne” to the world in the late 1700s.
His version of the song was based on an old Jacobite ballad that implored Scots to never forget past struggles to restore their country’s throne. In fact, one verse asks: “Shall Monarchy be quite forgot, and of it no more heard?”
Burns sent a copy of the original song to the British Museum with this comment: “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’s singing, is enough to recommend any air.”
He was right. “Auld Lang Syne” became a popular seasonal ballad in Scotland and England. Immigrants brought the song to America in the 19th century.
Even so, it took a bandleader from Canada to make it the favorite it is today in this country. Guy Lombardo first learned the song as a boy from Scottish immigrants in his hometown of London, Ontario.
As an adult, Lombardo would arrange the piece for his orchestra and make it a part of his band’s play list. Lombardo’s arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne” became a hit when his orchestra performed it at a New Year’s Eve Party in New York in 1929.
Since that time, countless performers have used a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” to help count down the seconds to the New Year.
“Auld Lang Syne” has become an integral part of modern culture, one that is now familiar among Americans of all generations. Even so, it’s a safe bet few Americans are as capable as George Bailey’s friends, who proficiently sing all the words to the first verse of “Auld Lang Syne” at the closing of the classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Most are probably like Billy Crystal’s character from the 1989 comedy “When Harry Met Sally.” That film finds Harry struggling to decipher the true meaning of the words to “Auld Lang Syne.” “My whole life, I don’t know what this song means,” Harry tells Sally in the final scene of the movie. “I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?”
Although Sally also has her doubts about the meaning of the song, she manages to sum up the spirit of “Auld Lang Syne” by telling Harry it’s simply “about old friends.”
That’s really all anyone needs to know if they are asked to join in on a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.”
Here’s to old friends. May we all drink a cup of kindness yet, for old lang syne.