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Auld Lang Syne

At many New Year’s Eve parties, the song “Auld Lang Syne” is played or sung at midnight, as a means of saying farewell to the old year and greeting the new. The phrase “auld lang syne” is Scottish dialect for “old long ago.” The song itself is attributed to Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scotland’s most famous poet.
Robert Burns’s Restoration
Burns scholars recognize that the poet did not write the entire song. They point to a letter that Burns wrote to a friend in which Burns admits as much. Rather, he found a fragment of an old folk ditty, restored it, and added new verses. In the letter, Burns paid high tribute to the anonymous writer of the brief text that he elaborated on:
Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it that in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians [Robert Burns Encyclopedia web page].
No one knows exactly how much of the song was written by Burns, but scholars believe that the poet definitely wrote what are now the song’s third and fourth verses.
Though Burns paired his lyrics with an already existing Scottish folk tune, his editor decided to publish them with a different old Scottish folk melody, the one we still use today. In Scotland the popularity of “Auld Lang Syne” grew over the years, until it displaced “Good Night and Joy Be Wi’ You A’” as the song traditionally sung at the break up of a festive gathering.
Auld Lang Syne” Becomes an American New Year’s Song
So how did this old Scottish tune become so well known in Ameri-ca? The answer lies in the power of television to publicize and pro-mote. In 1943, the New Year’s Eve festivities taking place in NEW YORK CITY’s TIMES SQUARE were televised for the first time. As viewers waited for midnight to arrive, they were treated to coverage of Guy Lombardo’s dance band, playing live at the Grill Room of the Roosevelt Hotel (in later years the venue changed to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel). Guy Lombardo decided to close out his New Year’s Eve performances with the tune “Auld Lang Syne.” Having grown up in western Ontario, a region of Canada with a significant population of Scottish descent, he was familiar with the tune. In fact, when playing locally he frequently ended his performances with the song. Although he doubted that many Americans were familiar with “Auld Lang Syne,” he played it anyway as a way of musically tipping his hat to the broadcast’s corporate sponsor, Robert Burns’s Panatella cigars. Guy Lombardo and his dance band became a fixture on these New Year’s Eve broadcasts, and so did the song “Auld Lang Syne.” This yearly television exposure encouraged Americans to adopt as their own the custom of singing “Auld Lang Syne” to bid farewell to the old year.

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