Why Do We Sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ On New Year’s Eve, Anyways?

by on December 31, 2015 · 1 comment

in Culture, History, Life Events, Media, World News

champagne3Because we’re drunk?

Dan Fallon / diggs

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t actually know the words to Auld Lang Syne. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from drunkenly slurring along to the instantly-recognizable tune at our annual New Year’s Eve parties.

It’s a song that elicits feelings of goodwill towards man, a song that moves. While Auld Lang Syne is an integral part of the New Year’s Eve ritual, most of us probably still have a few questions about the song. Namely:

What are the lyrics?

Where did this song come from?

And why the heck do we spend the first few minutes of each year singing it?

The Lyrics 

The song — the title of which translates roughly to “times gone by” — has five verses, but if you know the first, you’ll already be miles ahead of the other drunkards this year:

(Verse 1)

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and old lang syne?


For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

Here’s what the song has to say:

Most New Year’s Eve revelers just mumble or hum along. But they get the gist of the main question of the song: Should old friends be forgotten? And the answer, of course, is no, the past must be remembered.

The Origins

It was a Scottish folk song, adapted by Robert Burns:

It was Robert Burns (1759–1796), the great eighteenth-century Scottish poet, who transformed the old song (and many other Scottish standards) for publication… When Burns turned his attention to “Auld Lang Syne,” he claimed merely to have transcribed the words from “an old man’s singing.” But from the time his version of the song was first printed (in 1796, just after his death), it has been understood that Burns lent more than a trace of his distinctive artistry to the now-famous verses.

Though the version we sing is different than Burns’:

[T]he Auld Lang Syne tune which is sung from Times Square to Tokyo, and has conquered the world, is not the one Robert Burns put the original words to. The older tune though is still sung by traditional singers. It has a more douce, gentle, nostalgic feel to it than the popular tune a mood evoked by the subtle use of the traditional air sung by Mairi Campbell in the first Sex and the City movie.

The tune has long been an international favorite:

The international popularity and special significance of Auld Lang Syne was poignantly illustrated during the Christmas Truce at the start of World War 1. For a brief moment the guns fell silent and troops from both sides left the trenches to swap souvenirs and sing songs. According to a letter from Sir Edward Hulse, of the Scots Guards, the British and German soldiers joined together to sing Good King Wenceslas, The Tommies Song and finally Auld Lang Syne.

Although the New Year’s Eve thing is mainly a US phenomenon:

In sentimental American movies, Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne is sung by crowds at the big New Year finale. In Bangkok and Beijing it is so ubiquitous as a song of togetherness and sad farewells, they presume it must be an old Thai or Chinese folk song; while in France it is the song which eases the pain of parting with the hope that we will all see each other again.

The tune was used by the Maldives and Korea for their national anthems, while Japanese department stores play it as a polite reminder for customers to leave at closing time.

The New Year’s Eve Phenomenon

Why did we start singing it? Blame this Guy:

It was in 1929 that Guy Lombardo and his band took the stage at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City on New Year’s Eve. Their performance that night was being broadcast on the radio, before midnight Eastern-time on CBS, then after on NBC radio. At midnight, as a transition between the broadcasts, the song they chose to play was an old Scottish folk song Lombardo had first heard from Scottish immigrants in Ontario. The song was Auld Lang Syne.

So why do we keep singing it? Hollywood:

A lot of things were popular in the 1940s that have long since been erased from the cultural lexicon. So why did Auld Lang Syne stick around? At least in part, we can point the finger at a usual suspect: Hollywood.

Tinseltown loves the song. Heck, there’s a whole supercut devoted to the song appearing in movies during New Year’s Eve scenes.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gerald Sweeney January 9, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Did Doug, an editor at Digg get into some powerful buds or is it just me?


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