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Auld Lang Syne; the Carols of Christmas


I hope you've been following my Carols of Christmas series. I admit this isn’t a Christmas carol at all, but it is a holiday song and it’s one that’s always puzzled me. I think of it as the Dick Clark kissing song because, as you know, they play "auld lang syne" just after the ball drops and then people kiss. As I kid, I thought it was gross. It’s also the song they sing to George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas eve. Isn’t that a week early? Puzzling.

Remember Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”? He too puzzled over the lyrics of this New Year’s Eve Song that no one really knows but always tries to sing. Take a minute to watch this clip:

After doing a very little bit of research, I think Sally’s right. It’s about old friends. Like many songs, this one came from an oral tradition. In this case, Scotland. Robert Burns wrote the poem down and submitted it to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788. His version is very Scottish and difficult to understand, but so much fun to try to read aloud with a fake Scottish accent. The worse the accent the better. It starts out pretty easy, but, like a Dr. Seuss book, gets harder and harder to say as the poem progresses.

Try it:

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 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.

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes

And pu'd the gowans fine;

But we've wander'd mony a weary foot

Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn,

Frae mornin' sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar'd

Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!

And gie's a hand o' thine!

And we'll tak a right guid willy waught,

For auld lang syne.

But what does it mean? “Auld Lang Syne” translates to “old long since” or more simply, “long, long ago”. In other words, it is about old friends and it reminds us to not forget them. It’s a yearly reminder to remember friends and times we shared together and celebrate them. It makes sense to ponder these things at the end of a year passing into another. Scots sang this song every new year’s eve and when they emigrated to other lands, they brought the song with them. That’s why we sing it, though we don't know why or what it means.

This modern version is helpful:

Chorus

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And long, long ago.

Chorus

And for long, long ago, my dear

For long, long ago,

We'll take a cup of kindness yet,

For long, long ago

And surely you’ll buy your pint-jug!

And surely I'll buy mine!

And we'll take a cup of kindness yet,

For long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have run about the hills

And pulled the daisies fine;

But we've wandered manys the weary foot

Since long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have paddled in the stream,

From morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

Since long, long ago.

Chorus

And there's a hand, my trusty friend!

And give us a hand of yours!

And we'll take a deep draught of good-will

For long, long ago.

Chorus

I like this verse:

"We two have paddled in the stream,

From morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

Since long, long ago."

I have friends like this. They are important to me. I remember fun times with them, but over the years, the stream has broadened. They aren’t less special, and I treasure our time together, but we don't see one another as often. New Year’s Eve is good time to celebrate the people who made us the people we are and maybe rekindle some of those friendships. It’s a little cheesy and emotional, but that’s what New Year’s Eve is all about.

As I was writing this, we were driving to visit some “broad stream” friends. I read what I had so far to my husband and he called some other friends in the area and we had an evening catching up with them as well. This old, hard to understand, Scottish drinking song inspired us to reconnect with two families who made us who we are today. I love that music can do that.

...and you officially have until tomorrow night. Quick! Memorize the actual lyrics of the first verse (the only one they ever play) and sing them loud an proud at your NYE get together. People may be impressed. Or they’ll be kissing someone. Either way, you might not be as confused. And maybe you’ll think of old friends and good times and blessings from the past and blessings to come.

Happy New Year!

Shannon

 

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