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What does ‘Auld Lang Syne’ mean, and why do we sing about it on New Year’s Eve?

On New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight people around the globe break into a tune whose lyrics are believed to be based on a Scottish poem by Robert Burns.

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‘Auld Lang Syne,’ which translates literally to “old long since” in English, loosely means “times gone by,” and it’s those times that we are being urged to remember in the poem and the song.

So, how did a Scottish poem become the song we sing on New Year’s Eve?

The tune, which is believed to be a Scottish folk song, became popular in the US in the 1920s and 1930s after band leader Guy Lombardo adopted it as his theme song and used it to end his shows, including his yearly New York New Year’s Eve show.

“His New Year’s Eve concerts in New York City, which began in 1929, became an institution,” Time magazine noted in Lombardo’s 1977 obituary. “First on radio, then TV, Lombardo’s rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ marked the nation’s rite of passage from the old year to the new.”

In America, we tend to shy away from the original version of the song because it was written hundreds of years ago in Scotland and makes little to no sense to those who speak English in the 2000s.

The verse most of us sing on New Year’s Eve goes like this:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot;

And never brought to mind;

Should auld acquaintance be forgot;

And days of auld lang syne.”

Chorus

“For auld lang syne, my dear;

For auld lang syne;

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet;

For auld lang syne”

The first verse of the song they sing in Scotland is pretty close to the one we sing in America. It goes like this:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne”

Chorus:

“For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne.

We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne”

The second verse, not sung generally in the US, goes like this:

“And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!

And surely I’ll be mine!

And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,

For auld lang syne”

Chorus

The third, fourth and fifth verses get a bit tougher to follow, but give it a shot.

“We twa hae run about the braes,

And pou’d the gowans fine;

But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,

Sin’ auld lang syne”

Chorus

“We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,

Frae morning sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin’ auld lang syne”

Chorus

“And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!

And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,

For auld lang syne”

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