As we ring down the curtain on yet another year, many of us will hear, play, or sing what is sometimes dubbed “the most famous song that nobody knows.” With lyrics traditionally butchered by millions at midnight on New Year’s Eve—”Auld Lang Syne” was the title and key phrase of a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788. The phrase itself had been around for 200 years before Burns’s poem popularized it.
“Auld lang syne” (“syne” can be pronounced either “zine” or “sine”) translates literally into English as “old long since” and means essentially “days gone by” or “long, long ago.” It’s historically a drinking song (the phrase “we’ll take a cup of kindness” isn’t referring to warm milk), but feel free to enjoy it without alcohol. It suggests reminiscing about good times with old friends and loved ones that we promise never to forget. “Should old acquaintance be forgot?” Never! is the implied answer. The song has five verses, but no one sings—or shall I say attempts to sing—anything but the first verse and the chorus, which follow:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and 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.
Aside from countless movies in which the song has been used (my favorite is the final scene of It’s a Wonderful Life) and many recordings by popular artists, no one did more to embed the song in popular American culture than Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. My older readers will certainly remember him. Lombardo’s entertainment was the nation’s New Year’s Eve staple on radio and television for nearly fifty years during the mid-twentieth century, and “Auld Lang Syne” always accompanied the stroke of midnight. For your listening enjoyment, here’s a version recorded in 1953 :
I’m excited for the opportunities the new year will present. How about you?
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Here’s wishing you and yours a happy, prosperous, and healthy new year!
(And please . . . never drink and drive!)
For more on Robert Burns and “Auld Lang Syne,” see this article from the Robert Burns Encyclopedia.
© Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.