Auld Lang Syne

In Gratitude of Old Friends

This song, loved and sung around the world, is thought to be partially composed by an unknown Scottish bard in days, as its most famous refrain says, “old long since.” Today we would say (less poetically) long, long ago or days gone by.

We don’t know how old the song is. Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns (popularly credited as the song’s author), claimed to have discovered “Auld Lang Syne” in the late 1700’s and transcribed it as an old lowland Scot sang it for him. There may be truth to this, though it appears Burns improved the lyrics.

What makes “Auld Lang Syne” so powerful? It has nothing to do with a New Year and everything to do with an old friend. It is a tribute toast to treasured time spent roaming rolling Scottish hills and swimming stony Scottish streams with a cherished childhood companion.

The Treasure of Old Friendship

A new year may be a good time for new resolutions, but the ending of an old year is a good time for reflection on what has past. And I don’t mean merely lesson-learning reflection for future improvement. Some reflection is meant simply to treasure with gratitude what we were once given and will never have in the same way again.

Old friendship is that sort of treasure. Few gifts in life are as precious as companions with whom we once spent long summer days and talked long into the night; with whom we shared thrilling adventures and disastrous mishaps; with whom we bent over in convulsive laughter and sat silently in tearful loss; in whom we confided the hopes and fears of our youthful years.

Most often we didn’t choose our best friends as much as we were thrown together with them in “accidents” of Providence. Frequently, they happened to move in next door or up the street or in our tenement or began attending our church or had the locker or workstation next to us.

We became friends out of forced proximity, the joy of shared interests, and the deep, unspoken knowledge that it never has been good for man to be alone, which we learned meant far more than romantic love (2 Samuel 1:26; John 15:14–15). We sometimes fought and injured each other with wounds only intimates can inflict. But we carried each other’s hearts and had each other’s backs when others attacked.

Let Auld Acquaintance Not Be Forgot

Our old acquaintances, particularly those who helped us see and love what is true and pure and beautiful and excellent (Philippians 4:8), should not be forgotten. They should be recalled and reverenced. They left an indelible imprint on our souls and they still shape who we are. They were good, gracious gifts from God himself (James 1:17), to whom it is fitting to give heartfelt, profound thanks. The beginning of a new life chapter is a good time to remember precious characters of chapters past.

And perhaps it is time, before it’s too late, to schedule that lunch with or make that phone call or write that email or old-fashioned handwritten letter to a cherished friend simply to express again or at last what they have meant to you — still mean to you. Or if they are beyond contact now, it would be fitting to honor their significance to someone who can share with you the sweet melancholic memory of invaluable moments that you once knew.

As a New Year’s gift to you in honor of gifts of years’ past, below are the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne, with some translation help. And here is a beautiful Scottish reading of Burns’s transcription and here is a beautiful rendition of it in song.

As you toast the arrival of 2016, take a prayerful cup of thankfulness for the kindness God showed to you in days old long since.

Verse 1
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, (Should old acquaintance be forgot)
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, (Should old acquaintance be forgot)
And auld lang syne. (And long, long ago)

For auld lang syne, my jo, (For long, long ago, my dear [or for the sake of old times])
For auld lang syne, (For long, long ago)
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, (We’ll take a cup of kindness yet)
For auld lang syne. (For long, long ago)

Verse 2
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp! (And surely you’ll buy your pint-jug!)
And surely I’ll be mine! (And surely I’ll buy mine!)
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, (we’ll take a cup of kindness yet)
For auld lang syne. (For long, long ago)

Verse 3
We twa hae run about the braes (We two have run about the hills)
And pu’d the gowans fine; (And pulled the daisies fine;)
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot (But we’ve wandered many a weary foot)
Sin auld lang syne. (Since long, long ago)

Verse 4
We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn, (We two have paddled in the stream,)
Frae mornin’ sun till dine; (From morning sun till dinner-time;)
But seas between us braid hae roar’d (But seas between us broad have roared)
Sin auld lang syne. (Since long, long ago)

Verse 5
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! (And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!)
And gie’s a hand o’ thine! (And give us a hand of yours!)
And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught, (And we'll take a deep draught of good-will)
For auld lang syne. (For long, long ago)