But neither of the two men most closely associated with “Auld Lang Syne” are actually credited with writing it.
The song’s authorship is commonly credited to Robert Burns, an 18th Century Scottish poet. Besides writing his own poetry, Burns was known for collecting old Scottish folk songs. In a September 1783 letter he reportedly mentioned that he heard an old man singing the song and copied down the words. According to the BBC, Burns often amended and changed old songs before publication.
As for how this modified old folk tune became a modern standard for New Year’s Eve parties, that’s where the second man comes in. His name was Guy Lombardo.
Lombardo, a singer and leader of the big band The Royal Canadians, played the song as transitional music during a 1929 New Year’s Eve show at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, according to Mental Floss. The song was performed after midnight and obviously made an indelible impression on people who heard it broadcast through their radios and television sets.
Here is one version of the original lyrics, courtesy of Wikipedia:
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.
On old long syne my Jo,
On old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On old long syne.
So just what does it mean?
The phrase “For Ault Lang Syne” translates to “for the sake of old times.” It has also been interpreted to mean “old long since” and “days gone by.” So essentially it’s about reminiscing about the past, which seems appropriate for reflecting on the end of another year.
The sentiment is clear even if the literal meaning of the words and the identity of the person who penned them are not.