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Youve heard of Auld Lang Syne and maybe even sung…
January 2, 2014 by | No Comments

Youve heard of Auld Lang Syne and maybe even sung it ... especially at the turning of the year. But did you know that Auld…

Youve heard of Auld Lang Syne and maybe even sung it … especially at the turning of the year. But did you know that Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song thought to be a pentatonic Scots melody, probably a sprightly dance tune in a much quicker tempo than we sing it?

The song’s Scots title may be translated into English literally as old long since, or (idiomatically), long long ago, or days gone by or even, old times. Therefore, For auld lang syne, as it appears in the first line of the chorus, might be loosely translated as for (the sake of) old times.

The phrase Auld Lang Syne was used in similar poems by authors such as: Robert Ayton (15701638), Allan Ramsay (16861757) and James Watson (1711). Matthew Fitt used the phrase, In the days of auld lang syne, as the equivalent of Once upon a time… in his retelling of fairy tales in the Scots language. Some of Burns lyrics were collected rather than composed by the poet; the ballad Old Long Syne printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity.

The song begins by posing a rhetorical question as to whether it is right that old times be forgotten and is generally interpreted as a call to remember long-standing friendships. A change from the original was made when Thomsons Select Songs of Scotland was published in 1799 and the second verse about greeting and toasting was moved to its present position at the end. This makes little difference to most of us as the most common use of the song involves only the first verse and the chorus.

The last lines of both of these are often sung with the extra words, For the sake of or And days of, rather than Burns’ simpler lines. This allows one note for each word, rather than the slight melisma required to fit Burns’ original words to the melody. Also, there is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is really the same one Burns originally intended, but what we have now is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world.

Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve at the conclusion of New Year gatherings in Scotland very quickly became a Scots custom that spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them. Now, it is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, being used to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight.

By extension, it is very widely used to symbolize other endings/new beginnings including farewells, funerals (and other memorials of the dead), graduations, the end of a (non-New Year) party or an ending to other occasions. For example, the international Boy Scout youth movement, in many countries, uses it as a close to jamborees and other functions.

In case you have not seen them written, here are Burns lyrics to the first verse and chorus:

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,

well tak a cup o kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

Hope your new year will fulfill your best dreams.

For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit

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