A Brief History of 'Auld Lang Syne'

iStock/filadendron
iStock/filadendron

Every New Year’s Eve, after the champagne has been popped, the ball has dropped, and everyone is feeling very merry indeed, revelers queue up the same song they’ve been queuing up for decades. You know the one—it makes you cry, even though you don’t understand it and know almost none of the words.

A handful of options pop up when you search for the meaning of “auld lang syne”: "times/days gone by," “old time’s sake,” “long long times/ago,” and even “once upon a time” among them. The most common consensus is something like “for old time’s sake,” which is about as direct an interpretation as you can get, as the word-for-word translation is “old long since.” The line about “for auld lang syne” is essentially, “for (the sake of) old times.” (For the record, it never says the totally nonsensical “for the sake of auld lang syne.”) Beyond the words themselves, there’s even less agreement about exactly how the tune came to be a New Year’s Eve tradition.

The song originated as a poem, but it probably wasn’t written by Robert Burns as is commonly believed—at least not entirely. The poet was simply the first person to write down an old Scottish folk song (it bears more than a passing resemblance to “Old Long Syne,” a ballad that was printed by James Watson in 1711). Burns himself said, “I took it down from an old man,” and whether it was transcribed or co-authored, it’s safe to say that the “Auld Lang Syne” we know today is some combination of an old poem and Burns’s creative input.

Illustration to Robert Burns' poem Auld Lang Syne by J.M. Wright and Edward Scriven
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In any case, Burns sent a copy of the poem to a friend in 1788 and wrote: "There is more of the fire of native genius in it than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians!" Later he contributed it to the Scots Musical Museum.

Five years later, Burns wrote to James Johnson, who was assembling a book of old Scottish songs: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man."

It’s unclear whether Johnson linked Burns to the song in his credits, but by the time the book was published in 1796, the poet was dead. He’d never know that those words would eventually help secure his own cultural immortality.

The words aren’t the only element that evolved over the years; it’s believed that the original tune is different than the one we drunkenly hum along to today. Originally, the song had a more traditional folk sound, one that can be heard in (of all things) 2008’s Sex and the City movie. This version is still performed today, but with much less frequency than the New Year standard. The melody we all know was used at the suggestion of music publisher George Thompson.

How then, did a Scottish folk song with a murky provenance and nothing at all to do with New Year’s Eve become associated with the holiday? It’s largely thanks to bandleader Guy Lombardo. In 1929 , Lombardo and his band played “Auld Lang Syne” as transitional music while performing at New York City's Roosevelt Hotel during a New Year’s Eve broadcast . It was played just after midnight, and heard over radio and television airwaves, inadvertently spawning a global tradition.

Today, “Auld Lang Syne” is one of the most recognizable songs around the world, where it's played at funerals, celebrations, and as a warning that closing time is approaching at stores throughout Japan.

To impress your date this New Year’s Eve, learn the the correct words here—and don’t worry too much about the meaning. As Sally Albright says in When Harry Met Sally...: “Anyway, it’s about old friends.”

This article originally ran in 2016.

Vermont and Maine Are Replacing Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples' Day

David Ryder/Getty Images
David Ryder/Getty Images

The narrative surrounding Christopher Columbus has shifted in recent years, leading some U.S. states and cities to reconsider glorifying the figure with his own holiday. If the governors of Vermont and Maine sign their new bills into law, the two states will become the latest places to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day, CNN reports.

In 1971, the Uniform Holiday Bill went into effect, officially designating Columbus Day as a federal holiday to be celebrated on the second Monday of October. The holiday was originally meant to recognize the "discovery" of America—a version of history that erases the people already living on the continent when Columbus arrived and ignores the harm he inflicted.

As Columbus's popularity decreases in the U.S., some places have embraced Indigenous Peoples' Day: A day dedicated to Native American culture in history. The holiday is already observed in Seattle, Washington; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Alaska. Earlier this year, Sandusky, Ohio announced they would swap Columbus Day for Voting Day and give municipal workers the election Tuesday of November off instead.

Indigenous Peoples' Day has been celebrated in place of Columbus Day in Vermont for the past few years, but a new bill would make the change permanent. The Vermont state legislature has voted yes on the bill, and now it just needs approval from Governor Phil Scott, which he says he plans to give. If he passes the law, it will go into effect on October 14, 2019 (the date Columbus Day falls on this year).

Maine voted on a similar bill in March, and it gained approval from both the state's Senate and House of Representatives. Like Governor Scott, Maine governor Janet Mills plans on signing her state's bill and making the holiday official.

Regardless of the legal status of Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations take place across the country every October. South Dakota hosts Native American Day festivities at the Crazy Horse Memorial each year, and in Seattle, Indigenous Peoples celebrations last a whole week.

[h/t The Washington Post]

6 Creative Recycling Efforts From Around the Globe

iStock.com/ElenaSeychelles
iStock.com/ElenaSeychelles

Recycling isn't—and shouldn’t be—limited to separating plastic cartons, junk mail, and tin cans for the garbage collector. This Earth Day, think outside the plastic bin, and brainstorm creative ways to convert or re-purpose old, discarded, or unexpected materials into something new and useful. Don't know where to start? Get inspired by one (or all) of the sustainable organizations and initiatives below.

1. The Shopping Center That Sells Recycled/Upcycled Items

The adage “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rings true in Eskilstuna, Sweden. The metropolis is home to a shopping center, ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, which only sells upcycled, recycled, or sustainable merchandise. (The name ReTuna Återbruksgalleria combines Tuna, which is a nickname for the city; återbruk, which means “reuse” in Swedish; and galleria, which means mall.)

Patrons can drop off objects they no longer want or need at a designated recycling depot. Items that can be repaired are fixed and re-sold in the mall’s nine shops, which offer customers everything from furniture to clothing items to sporting equipment. Goods that can’t be sold are donated to needy institutions or organizations, or recycled.

2. The Mall That Feeds Its Food Waste To Hogs

A sign outside the Mall of America
iStock.com/Wolterk

The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, is the nation’s largest shopping center—and it’s also vying for the title of “greenest.” In addition to LED parking garage lighting, water-efficient toilets, and thousands of air-purifying plants and trees, the mall annually recycles more than 2400 tons of food waste by donating it to a local hog farm. (If you’re an entrepreneur who’s interested in emulating the MOA’s large-scale food waste strategy, you can check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for getting started here.)

3. The Nonprofit That Transforms Flip-Flop Flotsam Into Art

Around 8.8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. Soda bottles, grocery bags, and six-pack rings aren’t the only plastic items polluting the world’s waterways and harming fish, turtles, and other animals: In 1997, marine conservationist Julie Church came across a beach in Kenya that was strewn with discarded flip-flops.

Church noticed children making toys from the debris, and convinced local women to collect, wash, and process the flip-flops into colorful art objects. This initiative grew into Ocean Sole, a fair-trade business that today collects flip-flop flotsam from Kenya's beaches and waters and transforms them into plastic sculptures, accessories, and trinkets. Ocean Sole's goal is to recycle 750,000 flip-flops per year, and the organization also provides business opportunities to women living in city slums and remote coastal areas.

4. The Company That Turns Used Diapers Into Usable Items

 
Founded in 1989, Knowaste is a Canadian company that recycles diapers and absorbent hygiene products (AHPs), such as baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, and incontinence pads. They've developed a way to strip them of their plastic and fiber, which they then use to make products like composite construction materials, pet litter, and cardboard industrial tubing.

5. THE ECOLOGICAL NONPROFIT THAT COLLECTS HAIR TO CLEAN UP OIL SPILLS

Work at a beauty salon or own a furry pet? Instead of tossing shorn or shed hair into the trash, donate it to Matter of Trust. The San Francisco-based ecological charity’s Clean Wave program collects hair and fur, and uses it to make oil-absorbing mats and stuff containment booms. Hazmat teams use these all-natural tools to clean up after oil spills, and public works departments use them to keep motor oil drip spills out of waterways.

In addition to large-scale donations from beauty salons, barbershops, and groomers, Matter of Trust also accepts smaller contributions from private individuals. If you’re interested in helping out, visit Matter of Trust’s website, register to participate in the nonprofit’s Excess Access recycling program, and follow the instructions to donate. The program’s need for hair and fur ebbs and flows, depending on the volume of recent donations. But in the case of an emergency oil spill, all donations are welcome. (Cases in point: Matter of Trust’s hair mats and booms were used to help clean up after both the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in the San Francisco Bay and the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.)

6. The Nonprofit That Re-Purposes Old Crayons Into New Ones

As art supplies go, crayons are relatively cheap, making it all too easy and inexpensive to toss scuzzy, broken, and worn-down wax stubs into the trash and purchase new ones. But crayons are typically made from paraffin wax and aren’t biodegradable—so to keep old art tools from clogging landfills, a Northern California-based nonprofit called The Crayon Initiative collects unwanted crayons from restaurants and schools and melts them down to make fresh ones. Then, they donate the re-purposed goods to children’s hospitals. Family restaurants and schools can find out how to organize crayon donation drives online.

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated to reflect current data.

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