Shid Ald Akwentans Bee Firgot – the Many Lives of Auld Lang Syne

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet who published Auld Lang Syne in 1788

While Ann was working on today’s blog our house was filled non-stop with versions of Auld Lang Syne from Spotify’s seemingly bottomless well. We both agree our favorite of them all is the version sung by Mairi Campbell at the conclusion of the 2008 movie version of Sex and the City. If you haven’t already, be sure to listen to it on Ann’s blog.

Scottish pronunciation guide for Mairi Campbell’s first stanza

Hearing all of the different renditions and artists performing that particular piece got me to wondering about its origins and meaning, so I did a some digging around. Turns out that this seemingly simple little sweet Scottish folk song has had a complex and fascinating career.

It’s well known that the words are from a poem penned by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 and put to music in 1799. But even this seemingly straightforward origin is a bit murky. Evidently, Robert Burns “collected” folk songs from others and put them on paper. Was this plagiarism? It’s hard to know since plagiarismdetector.net was not available back then. Here’s a link to a an overview of the song’s murky origins.

Guy Lombardo

Furthermore, I had always assumed that Auld Lang Syne was written for the ringing out of the old year and welcoming of the new year, as depicted in the final scenes of the Sex and the City movie. Actually, it was Guy Lombardo who, 130 years after it was published, made it a New Year’s tradition (at least in the U.S.).

On December 31, 1929, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians … were tapped to play a New Year’s Eve radio broadcast from the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Just after midnight, they broke into “Auld Lang Syne.” It was a hit, so a year later they did it again. Eventually, it became the group’s signature tune, which they performed every New Year’s Eve — first on radio and then on television — until 1976. ( from the Saturday Evening Post)

But the New Years connection is just the tip of the Auld Lang Syne iceberg. The song has far more iterations and connections than I ever imagined. Here are just some:

  • In Scotland, it’s sung at the end of a cèilidh which is a traditional dance.
  • In Britain it’s played at the “Passing Out Parade of Young Officers” in the Royal Navy (Can your imagine a parade of naval officers passing out?).
  • It’s often a closing song for jamborees and other international Scout occasions.
  • It’s a part of the Danish Højskole tradition (whatever that may be).
  • It’s used as the Dutch football song “Wij houden van Oranje” (“We Love Orange”)
  • It’s a patriotic Thai song about the king and national unity.
  • It was the national anthem of the Korean exile govenment from 1919 to 1945.
  • It’s been used in animated films, including Mickey Mouse (Chain Gang, 1938) and Winnie the Pooh (A Very Pooh New Year, 2002)
Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lake in southern part of the Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland.

And speaking of iceberg tips, what better way to end my post than with a tip of the hat to my cycling buddy Larry (aka “SquarePants”) by sharing this version of Auld Lang Syne – in his ancestral language?

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