The History Of New Year: Auld Lang Syne

Chances are you’ve sung it or you’ve at least blagged your way through it in an alcohol driven haze at some point or another…The new year’s eve staple ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is a classic the world over and actually has a rich 240 year history that you might have never even thought about! 


Today, we thought we’d break down this brilliant piece of Scottish heritage and show you some of the more interesting points on the song that you can bring up at your new years parties for years to come.

The earliest recollection of the version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ that we recognise today can be traced back to the iconic Scottish lyricist and poet and  Robert Burns. Burns documented the poem and sent it to the Scots Musical Museum in 1780, indicating that it was an old folk song that people knew, but he had never seen it written down until he heard an old man singing it to him.

What does it mean?

We might all sing it each year, but what does ‘Auld Lang Syne’ actually mean? The title itself roughly translates to ‘For Old Times Sake’, which is perfectly fitting as a great way of looking back over the year that has just passed and reuniting with old friends.

Interestingly though, the phrase was also used in old folk songs for telling old Scots fairytales, “In the days of auld lang syne” roughly translating as “once upon a time”.

With such warm overtones in it’s meaning and words, it’s no surprise that the song has continued to spread across the world and has been translated and used for a multitude of occasions.

Starting with the most obvious, across most nations, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ continues to be used as a celebration of the previous year and welcoming in of a new one.

Many other composers have written their own versions of the song. Beethoven wrote his own arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in his 12 Scottish Folksongs (1814) and other versions of the song and its uses exist outside of new year. In Massachusetts for example, the words were changed in 1855 by Albert Laighton and used as a commemoration for those who had died that year.

New Year Traditions


In Scotland, it is common that when the song begins, everyone joins hands and creates a great circle in the room. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms and links arms, when the tune ends everyone rushes into the middle. When the circle is re-established, everyone turns under the arms to end up facing outwards with hands still joined. For many of us however a simple raising of a glass, new years kiss or chanting suffices as we sing!

Other uses

As mentioned, it is not uncommon to hear ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as a funeral song across the world, or marking the end of an event such a scout jamboree. However the further afield you go, the more the lyrics have been translated and used, the song continues to adapt.

In the Netherlands for example, the melody is best known as the Dutch football song”We Love Orange” – The colour of the Dutch football team’s shirts. Whilst in Thailand, the song was adapted to “Samakkhi Chumnum” or ‘Together in Unity’, which is set to the familiar melody as a patriotic song about the King and national unity. Because of this, many Thais are not aware of the song’s Scottish origin.

Japan has also continued this trend and people usually associate the melody with education. Called “Hotaru no Hikari”, the song is played at many school graduation ceremonies and is played as background music in various establishments such as bars, restaurants, or department stores in Japan to let the customers know that the establishment is closing soon.

Perhaps the most interesting of all though is the South Korian version of the song, where from 1919 to 1945 it served as the national anthem of the Korean exile government. The lyrics created for this national anthem were then used in the current South Korean national anthem which no longer sounds like ‘Auld Lang Syne’.


Need a refresher of the words?

Don’t miss out this New Year, whilst we may be further apart than usual, here are the original lyrics from Burns that many will know and love! 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne.

Chorus:

For auld lang syne, my jo,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne,

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!

And surely I’ll be mine!

And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes

And pu’d the gowans fine;

But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot

Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,

Frae mornin’ sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught,

For auld lang syne.

Chorus

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And long, long ago.

Chorus

And for long, long ago, my dear

For long, long ago,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For long, long ago

And surely youll buy your pint-jug!

And surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have run about the hills

And pulled the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered manys the weary foot

Since long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have paddled in the stream,

From morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

Since long, long ago.

Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!

And give us a hand of yours!

And we’ll take a deep draught of good-will

For long, long ago.

Happy new year from all of us at Millers and whatever you are doing, we hope you enjoy singing along to Auld Lang Syne this year!

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