Posts from the ‘Burns’ Cottage’ Category

Auld Lang Syne

For Auld Lang Syne (English translation: For The Olden Times)

kickin-out-150x150Artist: Janet McCrorie

On New Year’s Eve, as the clock strikes midnight and we turn from one year to the next, everyone across the Globe gathers to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

But what does it all mean? Who wrote it? And what is it we are supposed to be doing with our hands?

So, here goes…

“Auld Lang Syne” is much older than any other popular song we sing during the festive season. It actually dates back to 1788, when it was published by Scottish poet, Robert Burns, who lived in Scotland from 1759 to 1796. Over 220 years later, we’re still using the familiar poem to say goodbye to the past year.

Here’s a look at the meaning of “Auld Lang Syne.”

The phrase “Auld Lang Syne” appears in other poems that predate Burns’ more famous work. Allan Ramsey, for example, (1686-1758) wrote a similar poem and James Watson published similar poems in 1711. In fact, the first verse in the poem Watson published begins almost the same way as Burns.

“Auld Lang Syne” itself can be translated to “old long since” so it’s similar to the “Once upon a time” phrase used to open fairy tales. Since Burns wrote “for auld lang syne” the way the phrase is used in the poem is translated to “for (the sake of) old times.”

Here’s the first verse of the Watson 1711 poem:

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.

Here’s Burns’ first verse:

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

tartan-embrace-150x150Artist: Janet McCrorie

Burns sent “Auld Lang Syne” to two publishers. The first, James Johnson, published it in 1796 with a Scottish melody Burns was not a fan of. Three years after Burns died, George Thompson published it and set it to the turn of “Sir Alexander Don’s Strathspey” (a type of dance.) This is the same melody used to this day.

The song became so popular in Scotland that Scottish immigrants sang it wherever they went, spreading the song around the world. For example, during the famous 1914 Christmas truce during World War I, both British and German soldiers sang “Auld Lang Syne.” In 1925, Charlie Chaplin had characters sing “Auld Lang Syne” in The Gold Rush, even though it was a silent film.


The song also became popular in Southeast Asia and Japanese department stores use it to let customers know they are closing for the day. In Japan, the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” is set to the folk song “Hotaru no Hikari.”


The Japanese lyrics are about students using a firefly’s light to keep studying in the dark. However, it is soon time to leave studying behind. The song is also often performed at graduations.

Long before Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest helped millions of Americans ring in the New Year, there was bandleader, Guy Lombardo. In 1928, Lombardo and his band, the Royal Canadians, played their first New Year’s Eve broadcast. The following year, they performed the first ever nationwide broadcast from the Roosevelt Hotel and performed live from the hotel every year until 1954. They switched to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and continued performing ever year until 1976. Lombardo, who died in November 1977, became known as “Mr. New Year’s Eve.” After his death, his band rang in the New Year with broadcasts for two more years.


In 1929, Lombardo and his orchestra played “Auld Lang Syne” just as the clock was striking midnight. Lombardo was inspired to play the song after hearing it from Scottish immigrants in Ontario. (Lombardo was born in London, Ontario.) He performed the song as a segue between one broadcast and the next.

Sadly, Lombardo’s role in helping millions of Americans celebrate a new year with “Auld Lang Syne” is mostly forgotten today.

In Scotland, the Song is Sung as Part of Hogmanay Celebrations.

584727-7Artist Gail Wendorf; Painting, Old New Year Ceilidh

In Scotland, where Burns is the National Poet, singing “Auld Lang Syne” is party of Hogmanay celebrations. Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year. The celebration in Edinburgh has become world famous and features a Concert in the Garden that is sold out this year.


It’s tradition in Scotland to sing “Auld Lang Syne” while in a circle, holding hands. When the crowd reaches the last verse, which begins with “And there’s a hand my trusty friend,” everyone crosses their arms so the right hand reaches out to their neighbor’s left hand. At the end of the song, you rush into the center and turn, so that when everyone leaves the center they are now facing outwards – looking towards the new year.

Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally…, which was written by Nora Ephron, reaches a climax on New Year’s Eve. As “Auld Lang Syne” plays at the party, Billy Crystal’s Harry wonders what the song is all about.

“What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means,” Harry asks Sally. “I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happen to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot them?”

“Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends,” Sally (Meg Ryan) tells Harry. She was right.

Burns didn’t really mean that we should forget old acquaintances. The song is really meant to be about “preserving old friendships and looking back over the events of the year.” So, if you do forget about old acquaintances, you can look back on the year and remember them.

Here are the complete “Auld Lang Syne” lyrics by Robert Burns:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my jo,
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 take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowan fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.

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.

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

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

The third part of my Robert Burns documentary trilogy, The Secret Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Robert Burns, will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on Burns Day 2017.

Meantime, Happy New Year to you all – for Auld Lang Syne.




Burns An’ A’ That! 2015


BBC Radio Scotland
The Secret Sex Life of Robert Burns
January 25th at 10.30am

My brand new radio documentary about Robert Burns and his notorious reputation as a womanizer will air in on Burns’ Day 25th January 2015 on BBC Radio Scotland
at 10.30am. Presented by me and produced by Louise Yeoman with a range of other contributors including Professor Robert Crawford, author of The Bard; Chris Waddell from Burns Birthplace Museum; Historian, Dr Katie Barclay; and curator of The Georgian House, Dr Sheonagh Martin – along with readings and songs from some of Scotland’s best known actors.

Listen here: The Secret Sex Life of Robert Burns


I will also be appearing at The Alloway Burns Festival
on Burns Day itself – with my one-woman Burns-inspired show:

Keara Murphy: Mice & Women

Directed by John Paul McGroarty.

Tickets here: Keara Murphy: Mice & Women

Why not make a night of it and book tickets for the legend that is Dougie MacLean who appears on the same stage directly following my show? Double Bill: Book for Keara’s comedy show followed by music from Dougie MacLean

2for1 offers available – so if you purchase a ticket for Dougie MacLean you get a ticket for my show for FREE! It’s a true story.

It sure is set to be a Burns Night to remember!

Burns Gie It Laldy

“Intelligent Burns banter”
Eric Roberts

Keara brings a warmth and enthusiasm with her,not to mention a deep knowledge and passion for Robert Burns
Graham Blaikie
Scottish Licence Trade Association

Burns Festival Alloway Keara and Dougie MacLean

Directed by John Paul McGroarty.


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