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Auld Lang Syne Is the Official New Year’s Eve Song But What Does It Mean?

New Year's Eve
Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

2012 is winding down and New York City is preparing for it’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. At the stroke of midnight, as is the custom, everyone will sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – but what does it mean and where does the term come from? The song has actually been around since 1788. The song is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and the melody is set to an old traditional Scottish folk song. According to Wikipedia, the term Auld Lang Syne literally translates as “old long since” in English. It also loosely translates to “long long ago”, “days gone by” or “old times”.

The term has also been used in many other poems dating back as far as the 1600s or maybe as early as the late 1500s. Burns claims he did not ‘write’ the song in the traditional sense and claims the song was never in print of any kind. Burns said an old man told the poem to him and he took it down thus, “collecting” the lyrics and not composing the lyrics.

Singing the song quickly became a Scottish custom on New Year’s Eve, but it was Big Band Leader Guy Lombardo that popularized the New Year’s Eve use of the song beginning on a radio broadcast in 1929. Lombardo made the song an annual tradition on his radio and television New Year’s Eve broadcasts.

The song was also featured in the 1972 disaster blockbuster film, ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ just before the ship capsized. In the film, the ship’s band / orchestra appears to play the song at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but what you hear in the film is believed to be a recording of Lombardo’s original version of the song.

The song has become a staple of New Year’s Eve celebrations around the globe even though the song is a bit awkward to sing and I don’t know anybody who actually knows all of the words as they ere written. Every party I have ever been to has people singing the first couple of lines, which gradually morphs into everyone sort of drunkenly humming the melody because nobody knows the rest because the song itself is incredibly long. Anyway, Happy New Year and sing or hum along with Guy Lombardo below…..enjoy and be safe however you choose to celebrate.

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