“Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And never brought to mind? / Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And auld lang syne?” The words of this traditional song are sung at New Year’s Eve parties across the world. And though this song is sung at the beginning of every single year, you’ve likely at some point paused to wonder: “Hey, what the heck does ‘Auld Lang Syne’ really mean?”
“Auld Lang Syne” first entered the world in 1788 via the Scottish poet Robert Burns, according to Scotland.org. He claimed that it was an old song dictated by an old man, and that he was the first to put these time-tested words to paper. Thus, the poem wasn’t written by Burns, per se. Instead, he pieced it together. In fact, some of the lyrics contain the same words as “Old Long Syne” from the 1660s.
After getting new life from Burns, “Auld Lang Syne” spread out into the world of pop culture, particularly in his homeland of Scotland. Meant to bring up feelings of nostalgia and a love of old relationships and times gone by, the song is still sung right before the clock hits midnight in Scotland and in many places across the world, including the U.S.
But, really… what do those old-fashioned Scots words translate to?
In the most literal sense, auld lang syne can be roughly translated to “old long since.” And though those words don’t form a real phrase in modern English, to Burns (and to the old man who taught him the song), they meant “long, long ago,” “a long time ago” or “days gone by.” So when you sing “auld lang syne, my dear” in the chorus, you’re essentially cheering to days gone by, which is why people sing the song when they’re remembering the good times.
Seems pretty appropriate for the end of the year, right? It's just another one of those popular New Year’s traditions from around the world.