Why, when we gather to celebrate a New Year, do we sing the song that hardly anyone understands?
Auld Lang Syne – the song that everybody sings and nobody knows is often attributed to Robbie Burns but the song is actually much older and Robbie just added a few verses sometime in the 1790s.
The band leader Guy Lombardo is credited with making the song a New Year’s tradition after hearing it sung by Scottish immigrants to Canada. Lombardo played the song at midnight at a New Year’s eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929. After that, Lombardo’s version of the song was played and broadcast every New Year’s eve from the 1930s until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria.
Looking back and looking forward
There are those who see the end of the year as a chance to look back on their achievements (or what they failed to achieve) and look forward to achieving more but the song asks us to reflect on our relationships with the people who have shared our journey in life while we think of what has passed and what is to come.
More than any other achievement it is the connections to other human beings that give life meaning, bring us a sense of belonging and make us emotionally healthy.
Auld Lang Syne urges us to call up memories of old friends and to lift a glass to toast them even if they are no longer with us or we haven’t seen them in a long time. When times are bad it is especially good to remember those who cared for us and supported us and remember that these same people celebrated with us in good times.
People are the most important things in our lives
The media continues its relentless fear-mongering, trying to make us believe that danger and evil lurks around every corner but there are also countless stories of the kindness of strangers and more especially, most of us are fortunate enough to know that there are people we can rely on and who can rely on us to be selfless and kind with no thought of reward.
We sing the song that we barely understand because we know instinctively that it is these relationships that we should celebrate at the end of a year and know that spending time on building and strengthening them will be the most important things we can do with our time in the years to come.
Appreciating that life has had good moments with good people is what sustains hope and makes us want to experience that feeling again in times to come.
May you have many such moments in 2010.
Here is my version of the old song:
For times long gone, old friend
For times long gone
We’ll drink a toast to kindness shared
In times long gone.
Let’s remember our old friends
Who helped when times were bad
Let’s remember the celebrations
That we shared when times were good.
You get yourself your favourite drink
And I will get mine too
And we’ll drink a toast to kindness shared
In times of long ago.
We used to run quite carefree
Picking flowers in the sun
But we’ve also trudged a weary way
And some good times have gone.
We used to paddle in the stream
And play till we were tired
But oceans flowed between us
And pushed it from our minds.
Now take my hand my trusted friend
And give me yours to shake
And join me in a good-will drink
To good times that we shared.
If you want to see the traditional words just go here:
Happy New Year!