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History and Sentiments of Old Lang Syne

It’s traditional to sing Auld Lang Syne to usher in the New Year on the stroke of midnight. The song has become an anthem of celebrants across the nation. It’s a farewell to the current year, while welcoming in the new, in countries around the globe. When singing your rendition of the popular song this year, give some thought to its history.

Humble Beginnings

The words are from a Scottish poem written in 1788 by Robert Burns. He based it on a song he happened to hear an old man singing. Its beginnings stretch even farther back to an old Scottish folk song. It wasn’t set to music until 1799 and became the tune that we sing on New Year’s Eve. The English translation of the title characterized as “long, long ago.”

Some of the phrases in Burns’s poem were collected rather than original. The poem by Burns has remarkable similarities to one written by poet, James Watson, in 1711

The Melody Evolved

The original music to which the poem was set was different than that of today. The melody associated with the modern of today was first used in 1799. Other versions with different words and music survive as Scottish folk songs.

Many Uses

In the U.S., Auld Lang Syne is a staple at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The dirge has also been played at funerals, graduation ceremonies, at the end of team building exercises, and similar gatherings to mark the end. It’s sometimes played in Japanese restaurants and stores as a friendly way of ushering customers out the door.

Emotion Filled

The song evokes a sense of nostalgia, sentimentality and melancholy, while sustaining hope for the coming year. The folk song contained a sense of longing, but it was the composition by Burns that transformed it into a popular song. It urges people to cherish the past, while looking forward to the future. Ultimately, Auld Lang Syne is a question and statement about how we treat our fellow man. A sentiment that’s as relevant today as it was 300 years ago.

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