"Auld Lang Syne" (Scots pronunciation: [ˈɔːld lɑŋˈsəin]: note "s" rather than "z") is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man". Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns' later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same "old song". It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.
There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used both in Scotland and in the rest of the world.
Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (and other Britons) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them. See the influence within cultures below.
Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is often credited with popularising the use of the song at New Year’s celebrations in America, through his annual broadcasts on radio and television, beginning in 1929. The song became his trademark. In addition to his live broadcasts, Lombardo recorded the song more than once. His first recording was in 1939. A later recording on September 29, 1947 was issued as a single by Decca Records as catalog #24260.
However, earlier newspaper articles describe revellers on both sides of the Atlantic singing the song to usher in the New Year:
- "Holiday Parties at Lenox" (Massachusetts, USA) (1896) – The company joined hands in the great music room at midnight and sang “Auld Lang Syne” as the last stroke of 12 sounded and the new year came in.
- "New Year's Eve in London" (London, England) (1910) – Usual Customs Observed by People of All Classes… The passing of the old year was celebrated in London much as usual. The Scottish residents gathered outside of St. Paul's Church and sang “Auld Lang Syne” as the last stroke of 12 sounded from the great bell.
And just to add a cross-cultural flavour to our New Year,
"Auld Lang Syne" in non-English speaking countries
- In Thailand, the song Samakkhi Chumnum (Together in unity), which is set to the familiar melody, is sung after sports, and at the end of Boy Scout jamborees as well as for the New Year. The meaning is about the King and national unity. There, it is commonly believed to be a Thai traditional song.
- In Poland the Braterski krąg (Brotherly Circle) song is set to the same tune. It is traditionally sung by the members of the Polish scouting movement as the penultimate song during their meetings. The lyrics, loosely based on the original, are widely known for their last two verses that could be translated as By another campfire on another night we'll see each other again.
- In Pakistani Military, the band plays this song during the graduating parade of the recruits, and in Pakistan generally it is sung (or the melody played) at farewell events.
- In Bangladesh and Bengali parts of India, the melody was the direct inspiration for the popular Bengali song "Purano shei diner kotha" (Memories of the Good Old Days) composed by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and forms one of the more recognizable 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 Japan, the Japanese students' song Hotaru no hikari ("Glow of a Firefly") uses the "Auld Lang Syne" tune. The words describe a series of images of hardships that the industrious student endures in his relentless quest for knowledge, starting with the firefly’s light, which the student uses to keep studying when he has no other light sources. It is commonly heard in graduation ceremonies and at the end of the school day. Many stores and restaurants play it to usher customers out at the end of a business day. The national broadcaster, NHK, also plays this during New Year celebrations.
- Before the composition of Aegukga, the lyrics of Korea’s national anthem were sung to the tune of this song until composer Ahn Eak-tai composed a new melody to the existing lyrics. Like Japan and Taiwan, it is now used in South Korea as a graduation song and a farewell song to friends or at funerals.
- Before 1972, it was the tune for the Gaumii salaam anthem of The Maldives (with the current words).
- In Denmark, the song was translated in 1927 by the famous Danish poet Jeppe Aakjær. Much like Robert Burns' use of dialect, Aakjær translated the song into the Danish dialect sallingbomål, a dialect from the northern part of western Jutland, south of the Limfjord, often hard for other Danes to understand. The song Skuld gammel venskab rejn forgo ("Should auld acquantaince be forgot" — Scots / "Should old acquaintance be forgotten" — English), is an integral part of the Danish Højskole tradition, and often associated with more rural areas and old traditions. Also, the former Danish rock group Gasolin modernised the melody in 1974 with their pop ballad Stakkels Jim ("Poor Jim").
- In Zimbabwe, the melody is sung in Shona as a funeral farewell song, "Famba zvinyoronyoro, tichasanganiswa muroa ra Jesu", literally, go well, we will be united in the blood of Christ.
- In Chile, the melody is sung in Spanish as a funeral farewell song, specially in the Catholic church: "Llegó la hora de decir adiós, digamos, al partir, nuestra canción". ("It's time to say goodbye, let's sing, while we leave, this song". In fact, the melody is known as "Canción del adiós" ("Farewell Song").
- In Greece it is very commonly sung translated by the Scouts of Greece. It has the name "Τραγούδι Αποχωρισμού" meaning "Song of Farewell" and it is part of the ending ceremony of scouting Camping trips [lyrics url http://www.9sna.gr/songs.php].