“Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?”

If you ask someone to name a classic, holiday song for New Year’s Eve, they’ll probably come up with Auld Lang Syne. When I was a kid, my grandfather would whistle or sing part of the song and I could never figure out what the song was about or why we had to have it on New Year’s Eve. Then I got older, got a little sentimental, and learned a little history…

While I can’t say it’s a tradition for me, I have a better appreciation of this holiday favorite and thought it would be an appropriate way to close the last Friday blog post of 2018!

An 1841 illustration created based on “Auld Lang Syne”

Robert Burns

Auld Lang Syne‘s lyrics were written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 and set to a traditional folk song from the era. It’s a song of remembering, and the title phrase translates to standard English as “old long since” referring to days in the past or “for the sake of old times.” As the story goes, Robert Burns wrote down part of the lyrics as he heard them from an old man and then polished them into finer poetic form and added his own remainder of the song.

The song begins by asking “should old friends or the past history be forgotten”? That’s a question that’s certainly relevant to historians and you might even be able to spark a good history discussion at your New Year’s Eve part from this song. In the grand scheme, history is important because we can learn from the mistakes and successes of the past to shape the present and future. Personally, it’s good to look back on what’s happened in our lives and the friends and acquaintances who have helped us become the folks we are today.

Traditionally, Auld Lang Syne is song to a Scottish folk ballad melody. Likely in it’s earliest forms, the tune originated from far back in history and/or a compilation of popular scraps of songs and chording. Back in the 18th Century, it was rather common for poets to write song lyrics that were then matched to any popular, well-known tune of the day and region; and this tune seems to be no exception to that rule in its history.

Robert Burns in 1787

Which Version Are We Singing?

If you decide to sing this tune on New Year’s Eve, you’ll have to decide which version to sing. Burn’s original features Scots verse and then there are several “English versions.” (You’ll find one of the most popular English versions below.)

Aside from the holiday season, this song has enjoyed popularity at college graduations, in classic movies, at unions, Boy Scout jamborees, and at the end of many other friendly gatherings. It gained popularity shortly after publication in the 18th Century and has remained traditionally popular through the decades – though I suspect generations of children wondered what it was about…until they grew up, got sentimental, and had enough memories and old friends to remember.

English Version

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

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.


Enjoy The Music

I hope your 2018 has been filled with good memories and courage in the difficult times. May 2019 be welcomed with joy and much anticipation – even as we remember the old times and old friends!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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