The TRUTH Behind Traditional New Year’s Eve Song
Happy New Year everyone! We hope and pray that 2022 will lead to better days ahead for us! As we prepare to move forward, the end of one year and the beginning of a new one typically is a time of reflection and celebration. Whether you're celebrating the good times, how you powered through the bad times, or a mixture of both, New Year's is a time to honor all that you've been through in the past year. One song that embodies this feeling that gets sung all across the globe every year is "Auld Lang Syne." I wouldn't be surprised if you broke into song at one point of the evening/morning this weekend, or the song played somewhere in the background as you watched the ball drop on TV. It's a tradition that many people happily (and often, drunkenly) participate in. But do you know the background behind the traditional New Year's tune? And are you even close to singing the original lyrics or melody?
"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish song with words attributed to famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns, while the composer is not definitely known. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Burns first wrote the poem in 1788, but it wasn't printed until 1796 in James Johnson's fifth volume of Scots Musical Museum. This was not Burns' only contribution to the compilation, for he was a major contributor; however, it did become his longest lasting. Burns even admits that the words of "Auld Lang Syne" were taken "from an old man's singing!"
Similar poems existed well before Burns put his poem to paper, including Sir Robert Ayton's Old Lang Syne. Published in 1711, 73 years after Ayton's death, it is said that it was Burn's inspiration for his poem.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never thought upon,
The flames of love extinguished,
And freely past and gone?
Is thy kind heart now
grown so cold
In that loving breast of thine,
That thou canst never once reflect
Pretty similar, right? Allan Ramsay's Auld Lang Syne (1720) starts off with the familiar "should auld acquaintance be forgot," but lyrically, not much else is similar. Even before all of these examples, there is one dated back to 1568. This anonymous ballad entitled Auld Kyndness foryett shares great similarities in content and phrasing. The last eight stanzas are:
They wald me hals with hude and hatt,
Quhyle I was rich and had anewch,
About me friends anew I gatt,
Rycht blythlie on me they lewch,
But now they mak it wondir tewch,
And lattis me stand befoir the yett;
Thairfoir this warld is very frewch,
And auld kyndness is quyt foryett."
As for the melody of the song, it has changed over the years. The melody most of us sing today is not the original melody. When Burns' Auld Lang Syne was published in 1796, it was accompanied by "a rather slow and haunting tune," says Kirsteen McCue in an article from The Conversation. Edinburgh song editor George Thomson searched for a more celebratory feel for the song. Thomson's later version appeared in the 18th-century fiddle collection, The Millers Wedding, which now had a tune reminiscent of another song penned by Burns, O Can Ye Labour Lea (1792). From there, Bohemian composer Leopold Kozeluch set it for voice, piano, violin, and cello. In 1799, the famous tune appeared in Thomson's Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs, and gained immense popularity within the British Isles, and soon spread elsewhere.
Regardless of the origins, this song expresses and promotes unity year after year. Whether you are in a crowd of strangers, or with loved ones at home, Auld Lang Syne continues to bring us together in solidarity.