Auld Lang Syne

If you are like me, you have probably been singing Auld Lang Syne at Hogmanay all you life and still don’t know the meaning of the terms. Well, this year I have resorted to Wiki to enlighten us.

Wikipedia says of Auld Lang Syne:

The Hogmanay (Scots word for the last day of the year) custom of singing Auld Lang Syne has become common in many countries. Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem by Robert Burns written in 1788 and based on traditional and other earlier sources. It is now common to sing this in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year’s Day, though it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, co-ordinating with the lines of the song that contain the lyrics to do so. Typically, it is only in Scotland this practice is carried out correctly.

‘And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

for auld lang syne.’

However, in all the versions I have ever sung it is really just the first verse and chorus that I know (like nearly every other song in my ‘repertoire’):

Should old acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot

In the days of auld lang syne?

For old lang syne, my dear,

For old lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet

in the days of auld lang syne.

(repeat chorus amid kissing, hugging, fireworks, drinking and much celebrating).

Robbie Burns
Robbie Burns

For the Scots, the New Year must also be a time for fond remembrance of their motherland. My mother (whose father was a Glaswegian) would have loved to visit Scotland and in later life often chose the heather-clad hills as a subject for her china painting. I can still re-evoke the strong smell of the solvent she used in the painting process. Phyllis and I, spent our honeymoon motoring through Scotland to the Isle of Skye. The heather was brown at that time of the year and there was no intoxicating smell of mum’s china painting solvent, but (before the fog set in) I gathered enough memories of my grandfather’s auld country to love it like he and mum did.

The heather on the hills
The heather on the hills

Oh, incidentally, the song’s Scots title may be translated into standard English as “old long since”, or more idiomatically, “long long ago”, “days gone by” or “old times”. Consequently, “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”.