With the year-who-must-not-be-named in the rearview window of our calendars, there are a lot of folks who would love to simply leave last year in the dust. While there is still much to contend with and the New Year’s Eve countdown didn’t erase any of the persisting issues our planet has on its plate, there was certainly a different feeling to the festivities. Perhaps the most poignantly charged was the iconic year-end tune, “Auld Lang Syne”- with it’s pangs of nostalgia for days gone by and a look toward the future with friends and loved ones, there has perhaps never been a better time for the legendary Scottish song.
“Auld Lang Syne” can roughly translate from the original Scottish to standard English as “long time ago”, “days gone by”, or more literally “old long since.” Both its lyrics and its soulful melody echo the sentiments of reflection and connection. But it didn’t first exist as a song. While often attributed to Scottish bard Robert Burns, he himself expressed from his letter in 1788 to Scots Musical Museum that what he was sending them was an ancient poem of the land, he merely being the first to put it to paper with his own creative input. The original melody is mostly lost to time (funny, that) but what we sing today is the contribution of music publisher George Thompson, who decided to attach the poem to a traditional Scottish melody.
The song caught on and became traditional to sing at Scottish New Years’ celebrations, known as Hogmanay. Through travel and word of mouth the tune spread, but one of the cultural events that truly brought the song to the attention of the world was at a 1929 New Year’s Eve event in New York. Bandleader Guy Lombardo and his group were playing for the event, and shortly after midnight, they performed an arrangement of the song that was broadcast on radio and TV to global acclaim.
As the years went on, the piece became a mainstay of Guy Lombardo’s repertoire, and “Auld Lang Syne” became an international staple for New Year’s Eve celebrations, and so it is no surprise that it’s mournful phrases hit hard around the globe after this year’s tribulations:
“Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?”
There are plenty who feel that there was something teasing about the traditional tune this past New Year’s Eve, with such an emphasis on togetherness and returns where much of the world is currently finding themselves unable to reconvene with those that they miss. But to look at the song and its message bitterly in our current context is to be blind to its spirit.
In a time where we may not know when we will next see a loved one, and where much of our days have blurred into each other and dragged on, there is no better moment to stop and reflect. Those precious times that we have had, the days of “auld lang syne”, are with us whether we are living them again or not. Even the hardest of times have value in our memory, to remind us of what we hold dear when we have it once again. If you find yourself on your own through these long winter nights, longing to be in the company of loved ones once more, then you have answered the question “Auld Lang Syne” puts forth.
Should old friends and old times past ever be forgot?