Among the many traditions that come with ringing in the new year, the singing of “Auld Lange Syne” has become a staple of every gathering.
While “Auld Lange Syne” was originally a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, it was eventually set to the tune of a traditional folk song. The title of the Scottish tune translates to "times gone by" and is about remembering friends from the past and not letting them be forgotten.
Now, at the conclusion of almost every New Year's celebration, partygoers join hands with the person next to them to form a great circle around the dance floor. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across their breast, so that the right hand reaches out to the neighbor on the left and vice versa.
When the tune ends, everyone rushes to the middle, while still holding hands. When the circle is re-established, everyone turns under the arms to end up facing outward with hands still joined.
Over the years, “Auld Lang Syne” has taken on a life of its own as musicians put their own spin on the traditional New Year's jaunt.
As the jam band Phish returns to Madison Square Garden in New York City for a four-show New Year's Eve run to close out 2012, the band will continue to play their rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” as they have done since 1989.
As Phish rings in the New Year, the tune is often accompanied by thrillingly bizarre acts that tend to change every year. Perhaps one of their most notable renditions of the song came during a 1995 New Year's run, when the band acted out their roles as curators of the Gamehendge Time Factory, a machine without which the world would remain frozen in time. At midnight, the Frankenstein-like machinery on stage was activated.
As well as celebrating the New Year, “Auld Lang Syne” is very widely used to symbolize other "endings/new beginnings" – including farewells, funerals, graduations, the end of a part, the election of a new government and even the closing of a retail store.
The melody is also widely used for other words, especially the songs of sporting and other clubs, and even national anthems.
Here are the lyrics to "Auld Lang Syne."
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?
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.
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 till 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.