By Jan White
No matter how you celebrate, when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, you’ve probably heard this song. Auld Lang Syne is most frequently associated with beginning the new year. And if you are like most, you’re wondering what in the world the song means and why it’s heard most often on New Year’s Eve.
The lyrics to the song came from a poem written in 1788 by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. The title’s English translation is “old long since,” but a more modern paraphrase would be “a long time ago,” or “for old times sake.” The sentiment expressed in the first lines of the song “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” is meant to be rhetorical. The words that follow tell of remembering times long gone and suggesting one drink a toast in honor of old friends. The song was set to an old Scottish folk tune and was commonly performed during Scottish celebrations like weddings and graduations. So when the Scots immigrated to America in the 19th century, naturally, they brought the ditty along with them.
But its popularity today is attributed to a famous bandleader. Maybe you’ve heard of him – Guy Lombardo.
Guy Lombardo was the bandleader for a Canadian band formed in 1921. There was a significant Scottish population in the western part of Ontario, where he grew up. It was a tradition of local bands to end the evening’s entertainment with Auld Lang Syne. After playing the resorts on the Lake Erie side of Canada, Lombardo brought his band, the Royal Canadians, to the U.S. As was his custom, he continued to end his performances with the Scottish ballad. Lombardo stated once that he had no idea that the tune would catch on in the states. But in 1929, the Royal Canadians played Auld Lang Syne at a New Year’s Eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, and the rest is history. Guy Lombardo and his band performed Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve for millions nationally and internationally for nearly half a century. Eventually, Lombardo became so synonymous with the holiday that he was nicknamed Mr. New Year’s Eve.
Although Lombardo passed away in 1977, the song he made famous is still identified with ringing in the New Year. This year, as you make your celebratory plans, you might follow the advice of Robert Burns and raise a toast in remembrance of old friends.