Monday, January 3, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

There are lots and lots of Christmas songs to choose from when recording one's thoughts in a blog. The choices are much more limited when it comes to New Year. Auld Lang Syne is, for many, the first song that comes to mind. For me, the song evokes images of the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life, in which Harry Bailey leads the crowd of friends in a rousing rendition of the song. George is holding Zuzu, and he has his arm around Mary, and family and friends gathered around. Even Zuzu is singing along (although she only knew a few of the words). Oh hey, that rings a bell...

Anyway, I find it fascinating how well-known Auld Lang Syne is, as opposed to how many of the words most people know. To many, the song goes like this:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never la la la
Hm hm hm hm ba da da da

So what are the words, and what, exactly does "Auld Lang Syne" mean? I thought you'd never ask. In the past, I've always heard it translated "Days Gone By". According to Wikipedia, that is an accurate translation, but more literally, it is Scots for "Old Long Since." "Days Gone By" makes more sense to our American ears. Another way of translating "auld lang syne" would be "in the olden days."

Robert Burns wrote the song in the Scots language in 1788, based on an older poem by James Watson (1711), and set it to a traditional tune. The fact that the song is in Scots, which is similar to English, likely accounts for the fact that so few people know the words:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

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.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


Is it any wonder that modern Americans don't know the words very well? What in the world is that saying? Fortunately for us, Wikipedia has an English translation. The gist of the song is as follows:

The first verse is asking if old acquaintances and old times should be forgotten.

The chorus is resolving to be kind (using a cup metaphor) and drink to the old days.

Verse 2 - both people mentioned (you and me) are going to buy pint cups so they can drink to the old days. ("It comes in pints? I'm getting one!" -Pippin Took)

Verse 3 - Since the olden days, we've both spent a lot of time running through the hills and picking daisies, but since then, we've spent a lot of time wandering to the point of exhaustion.

Verse 4 - We used to paddle in the stream from morning to dinnertime, but since then, wide seas have separated us.

Verse 5 - I'll reach out my hand to you, and you reach out your hand to me, and we'll drink to the old days.


It's human nature to look back on the old days with fondness, remembering a time when things were simpler, we didn't have so many worries, and life was a lot more enjoyable. We often tend to conveniently forget the difficulties of the previous years, and often we forget that the times weren't nearly as simple as we remember them.

I think it's important to remember the past, and it's even good to look back on it with fondness. As they say, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." We need to remember the good things and the bad, so that we can learn and become better people. There is, however, a danger in living in the past. We need to remember the past...but we also need to remember that "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13b-14).

Remembering is good, but pressing forward is equally as important. We can't live in the past or the future. We have to use our memories of the past, as well as what we've learned from our parents and history books, to help us press forward into the future.


Auld Lang Syne was originally sung in Scotland at New Year's celebrations, and as the Scotsmen moved around the world, the song spread. The Scottish even have a dance that goes with it. It is also sung at funerals, graduations, and other celebrations/ceremonies that signify beginnings and endings. It has been performed by a variety of musicians, including John Philip Sousa, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Susan Boyle. It has also been used in a bunch of movies (not just It's a Wonderful Life).

This song makes me happy, and I really should try to learn the words, if for no other reason than to feel nerdy. :-)

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