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People sing it around the world, celebrating not just a new year but also the beginning of something new. It is a song “evoking a sense of belonging and fellowship, tinged with nostalgia,” according to Scotland.org, From the same source, one learns that the poet Robert Burns sent the poem to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788, “indicating that it was an ancient song but that he’d been the first to record it on paper. The phrase “auld lang syne” roughly translates “for old times’ sake.”
The Scottish tradition for people to hold hands in a circle and sing the song just before midnight. At the beginning of the final verse, “And there’s a hand my trusty friend …” all the singers “cross their arms across their bodies.”
Although this writer could not find it in any of the present online sources or even in the foot-high dictionary at the office, long ago she read that “acquaintance” had a negative aspect to it: quarrels, squabbles, run-ins, if you will. The slate would be wiped clean of these, and things would begin anew. Although not verifiable right now, the writer thinks it makes more sense to forget past conflicts than past friendships. Forgetting… Forgiving… Never again brought to mind.
Or maybe the two – the first and the “trusty friend” – are reunited after having gone their separate ways remembering the past and forgetting the misadventures in between would also bring some harmony. Here are a couple of the verses
We twa hae run about the braes
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’ mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
On New Year’s Eve day in 2015, Alice Vincent wrote in The Telegraph that one use of the tune is in Japanese department stores, where it is played it as a polite reminder for customers to leave at closing time.
The tune and the song were used at the funeral of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It appears in the Christmas favorite “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It has been used
after the election of a new government and at the last lowering of the Union Jack when a British colony achieved independence.
Wikipedia reports even more uses
In the English-speaking world …
In Scotland, it is often sung at the end of a céilidh or a dance. It is played and sung by the crowd in the final stages of the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
In many Burns Clubs, it is sung at the end of the Burns supper.
In Great Britain, it is played at the close of the annual Congress of the Trades Union.
The song is sung in London at the end of the Last Night of the Proms by the audience and so it is not often listed on the official programme.
The song is played at the Passing Out Parade of Young Officers in the Royal Navy, as they march up the steps of the Britannia Royal Naval College; and at the Sovereign’s Parade at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for young officers joining the British Army, as the cadets march up the steps of their famous Old College building.
In non-English-speaking countries …
The song’s pentatonic scale matches scales used in Korea, Japan, India, China, and other East Asian countries.
In India and Bangladesh, the melody was the direct inspiration for the popular Bengali folk song “Purano shei diner kotha” (“Memories of the Good Old Days”) composed by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and forms one of the more recognisable tunes in “Rabindra Sangeet” (“Rabindra’s Songs”), a body of work of 2,230 songs and lyrical poems that form the backbone of Bengali music.
In Denmark, the song was translated in 1927 by the poet Jeppe Aakjær. Much like Robert Burns’ use of dialect, Aakjær translated the song into the Danish dialect sallingbomål. Also, the former Danish rock group Gasolin modernised the melody in 1974 with their pop ballad Stakkels Jim (“Poor Jim”).
Before 1972, it was the tune for the Gaumii salaam anthem of The Maldives (with the current words).
In the Netherlands, the melody is best known as the Dutch football song “Wij houden van Oranje” (“We love Orange”). In Thailand, the song “Samakkhi Chumnum” (“Together in unity”) is set to the familiar melody and sung for the New Year.
In Japan, people usually associate the melody with Hotaru no Hikari, which sets completely different lyrics to the familiar tune. In South Korea, the song is known as Jakpyeol (“Farewell”) or as Seokbyeol I Jeong (“The Affection of Farewell”). From 1919 to 1948, it was also the melody of Korea’s national anthem. The lyrics were the same as today’s South Korean anthem.