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'Auld Lang Syne' Meaning and Why It Is Sung on New Year's Eve

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She writes articles that are interesting to her readers.


Auld Lang Syne is usually the last song of the old year. It is sung on New Year's Eve just as the old year goes out and the new year is coming in. Many people sing the song. However, they have no idea what it means or the origin.

Some people don't even know all the words. They know only the questions in the first two lines and nothing more. Perhaps that's because the song is sung only once a year which isn't enough times for people to get to know all the words

Origin of "Auld Lang Syne"

Auld Lang Syne is a Scottish folk song used to celebrate the end of something. Most people hear it only on New Year's Eve, but the song can be sung at the end of anything and not just at the end of the year. Actually, while the song acknowledges the end of something, it also honors what is ending. It is a way of remembering and reminiscing on what is about to end.

It isn't usually done in our culture, but Auld Lang Syne could be sung at funerals, graduation parties, retirement celebrations, and at other events that represent the ending of something. Auld Lang Syne is the national anthem in some countries. In some Japanese department stores, the song is played over the loudspeaker at closing time to remind customers to prepare to leave.

Auld Lang Syne was not written to be sung. It was originally a poem to be read. Even though the Scottish poet Robert Burns has been credited with being the author of the poem, he admitted he was not the author. He said he was the first to write the words on paper. Then he sent the words to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788.

While it is true the song originated in Scotland, we all know it did not stay in Scotland. Now the song can be heard at most New Year's Eve celebrations around the world.

Keep in mind that when it is sung on New Year's Eve, it is to honor the old year ending and not the beginning of the new year.

Meaning of "Auld Lang Syne"

The Scottish expression Auld Lang Syne could be translated several ways in standard English.

  • "old long since"
  • "long long ago"
  • "days gone by"
  • "old times"
  • “for old times’ sake”
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Lyrics of the "Auld Lang Syne"

The original lyrics are not usually sung today. That's because the lyrics have changed over the years. It was first sung in the original Scotish language that people around the world don't know or understand.

During a celebration, the entire group may start out singing the first two lines:

"Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?"

After those first two lines, people just mouth some words or stop singing completely.

The song is ideal to be sung on New Year's Eve for several reasons.

  • It is short and can be sung within a few minutes.
  • People are more focused on the ball being dropped at the stroke of midnight and not on the song.
  • People are anxious to say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new year.
  • It is a way for people to say farewell to the past year and look forward to the new year.

Singers of the Song

Auld Lang Syne is a public domain song, therefore anyone can record it, and several singers have recorded it in their own style. For example, Mariah Carey is accustomed to singing it on ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy in New York. Carey sings her version a little differently from other folks. Listen to her singing it in the video above and notice that she repeats the first two parts of the song over a much faster beat than most other singers who have recorded it.

Others who also sing Auld Lang Syne include Susan Boyle, Gloria Estefan, Lea Michele, Bruce Springsteen, Bobby Womack, and Pentatonix who sings a cappella (without music).

Listen to Pentatonix Sing "Auld Lang Syne"

If you do not know all the words to Auld Lang Syne, you are in the majority because most people don't know all the words.

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