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What Does Auld Lang Syne Mean and Why Do We Sing It?

What Does For Auld Lang Syne Mean
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"Auld Lang Syne" ranks up there with "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" and "Come On Eileen" for songs that no one knows the lyrics to. If the name doesn't ring a bell, "Auld Lang Syne" is that song everyone mumbles after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day. 

It's a well-known folk song, but at any given party you might be hard-pressed to find someone who knows the words. (Except that guy who keeps rubbing the fact he knows it in everyone's face and will comment here with something like "who doesn't know the words?")

"Auld Lang Syne" is an old Scottish folk song, generally credited with having first been written down by the poet Robert Burns in 1788. Burns later sent the poem to the Scots Musical Museum accompanied by a note that read, "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." 

The song wasn't intended to be a farewell to the year gone by, as it's used by many today. In fact, the song likely wasn't sung the way it is today in Burns' time. (The version with which you're the most likely to be familiar isn't the only one still sung today.) It's been debated for years, but many believe the tune Burns heard when he wrote the words down has been lost to time. 

What "For Auld Lang Syne" Means

The phrase "for auld lang syne" loosely translates as "for old times' sake." The speaker of the poem is hoping to preserve the oldest, most important relationships in their life. To that extent, it works well with the way we traditionally use the changing of the year to reflect on the past. 

In the US, it's sung just after midnight. But the song is sung all over the world with slight variations on the execution. In Scotland, it's sung just before midnight with a tradition of holding hands and running to the center of the group during the final verse. 

What Are the Words to "Auld Lang Syne"?

Here are the words to the original Burns poem, per Poets.org.

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 dear,
     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 pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
     Sin’ auld lang syne.

     [Chorus]

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
     Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
     Sin’ auld lang syne.

     [Chorus]

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
     And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
     For auld lang syne.

     [Chorus]

If you think you might forget lines like "We twa hae paidl'd in the burn" when you're well past your first glass of champagne, there's a more modern version that will get no scoffs at your New Year's party. 

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and old lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

and surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

We two have run about the slopes,

and picked the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,

since auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

We two have paddled in the stream,

from morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

for auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He holds a Guinness World Record but has never met the fingernail lady. Follow him @dlukenelson.