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 every-one 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 combi-nation 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 Lombar-do. 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.

Harry Potter Fans Can Have Dinner at Hogwarts This Christmas

big-ashb via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
big-ashb via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans who have ever dreamed of a Hogwarts Christmas now simply need to make their way to London to experience it. Through January 27, 2019, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is hosting a festive "Hogwarts in the Snow" event, where visitors can recreate some of the Wizarding World's most memorable moments.

According to the Warner Bros. Studio website:

"The festive transformation will begin in the Great Hall, where the stage will again be decorated as it was for the iconic Yule Ball. As seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the celebration of the Triwizard Tournament saw every detail of the Great Hall covered in shimmering silver, dripping icicles and sparkling snow. You will get a taste of this incredible set dress as the top section of the Great Hall will be transformed with snow-covered Christmas trees, icicles, and an orchestra of magical instruments that have been painted by the Prop-Making Department to match the silver of the Yule Ball."

Though it may not be exactly like attending the Yule Ball that was thrown at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Harry and the gang, the studio's epic holiday party will make it feel pretty close. An orchestra will play as attendees feast on a grand two-course dinner in the Great Hall and drink Butterbeer, and you'll gain exclusive entry to the Studio Tour.

After dinner, dessert and drinks will be served as guests travel through the sets from the Harry Potter film series, including the Gryffindor common room, Diagon Alley and Platform 9 ¾.

Though The Weird Sisters will not be in attendance, we can pretty much guarantee you'll have a better night than Harry, Hermione, and Ron did at the Yule Ball.

Thoughtful Human's Line of Plantable Greeting Cards Is Here for Life's Most Delicate Scenarios

Thoughtful Human
Thoughtful Human

Not sure how to make amends with that family member you had a fight with a couple years back? Perhaps you want to offer support to a friend going through a painful time—like with depression, cancer, or various kinds of grief—but don't know how. If you're having trouble finding the right words to say, Thoughtful Human wants to help. This unorthodox card company is challenging people to communicate in ways that show "radical compassion and empathy."

Thoughtful Human is essentially the Hallmark of strained relationships and awkward ice-breakers. The messages get straight to the point and say the words you might have trouble voicing aloud. "I was being really selfish and immature. I'm sorry," reads one. "Still mad, but life is short and tradition is tradition. Happy birthday," reads another.

But what truly makes these cards a literal alternative to extending an olive branch is that they're also plantable? All of the cards are made of seed paper, and they generally transform into wildflowers within 10-14 days of being planted. View it as a symbol of the restorative power of communication.

A variety of cards
Thoughtful Human

In a video posted to the company's website, Thoughtful Human's founder, Ali O'Grady, explains that the cards are designed for "dynamic relationships and challenging life circumstances." It's also a deeply personal project: She decided to start the company after losing her father to cancer.

There are cards dedicated to addiction and rehab, depression, grief, injury, long-distance relationships, and other delicate scenarios. Of course, you'll also find plenty of cards for happier times, including thank-you notes and congratulatory messages.

And if you haven't sent out your Christmas cards yet, consider this anti-holiday holiday card: "Shout out to that stranger's baby who locked in a lifetime of undeserved gifts, pie, and vacation time for everyone."

These cards and more can be found on Thoughtful Human's website, on Target.com, and at select Whole Foods stores in California's Bay Area.

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