Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot: Auld Lang Syne
by Brennan Ruegg, Leadville Today Contributor
With champagne glasses raised, sloshing over the sides, and a drunken tear in their eye, revelers traditionally sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in the new year. That familiar and cloudy song always begun with determination, (“Should old acquaintance be forgot”) and soon deteriorating into sobs or unsure humming, is as widely chanted on January 1 as the countdown is on December 31. And since most people only sing it once a year and under the influence of drunken nostalgia, it’s not really surprising that they can’t get the words right. However, the song’s later verses will speak to Coloradans and Leadvillians in particular, which remember paddling the streams and running about the slopes.
So what does it mean, and where does the tradition come from?
Auld Lang Syne, translated loosely as “times gone by” or “for old times’ sake,” is a traditional Scottish hymn of unknown origins, recorded for the first time by Robert Burns who said he “took it down from an old man” when he delivered his rendition to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788. Since popularized by the poet Burns, whose creative touch may have been big or small, the words have been translated into a multitude of languages including the modern English version some know:
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld 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 of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine; but we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun ’til dine; but seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand ‘o thine! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne!
Auld Lang Syne was never a hard-and-fast holiday song either. Guy Lombardo is credited with the modern New Year’s Eve tradition having played it coincidentally in the minutes after midnight between two radio shows in 1929. The tradition stuck, and since, pop culture has taken over with notable New Year scenes in movies like When Harry Met Sally and Forrest Gump, and renditions recorded by artists such as Prince, Billy Joel, Jimi Hendrix, and Elvis Presley.
“Times gone by” may refer to those that first knew Leadville, or the parts of our own lives that have left with the years. It reminds us that on the day all about looking forward to a new year and a new day, in a world that reveres progress and advancement, it is equally valuable to look back. So when the clock strikes the beginning of 2017, it also strikes the end of 2016, and though it may be easier to remember the setbacks and failings, some things that won’t be coming with us into the New Year needn’t be forgotten.