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Whose Auld Lang Syne? Mine, Yours, Theirs?

January 3, 2012

Around this time every year, it seems that there’s new news about the song, “Auld Lang Syne.” But it turns out (and it turns out rather fittingly given what we think the song is being sung about) the news is old. For example, here are a couple of recycled topics this year:

1. “‘Auld Lang Syne’: New Year’s song has a convoluted history

2. “Happy new year: Three-quarters of us don’t know the words to Auld Lang Syne

Here are the questions that we hear asked and answered annually:  Who wrote the poem?  Which version?  Who wrote the tune?  Which one?  What do the words really mean?  Did they mean something different from what we know them to signify now?  Can we just resolve to learn them this year after all?  (The wikipediaists have done a fair job of gathering much of this information into one place, with web links to send us inquirers off on rabbit trails of history.)

What fascinates me more than the origin and the etymologies of the song is who claims it.  For example, the Scots at http://www.scotland.org seem rightly to claim:

a.  “Auld Lang Syne is one of Scotland’s gifts to the world.”

And the wikipediaists (again) note other traditions, such as national traditions:

b. “In the English speaking world” (i.e., in Canada, in Great Britain, in the USA)

c. “In non-English speaking countries” (i.e., in Belgium, in Chile, in China, in Denmark, in Finland, in France, in Greece, in Hungary, in Korea, in the Netherlands, in Peru, in Poland, in Taiwan, in Thailand, in Sudan, in Zimbabwe)

And it seems every musician and /or filmmaker wants to make it her own, or his own; here is just:

d. the “Top Ten ‘Auld Lang Syne’ videos for 2011

One of the Top Ten is Ludwig van Beethoven’s old rendition for this new year again:

There are even non-Scottish religious appropriations of the songs and the poems (that have nothing to do with Robert Ayton [1570–1638] or Allan Ramsay [1686–1757] or Robert Burns [1759 – 1796] or James Watson [a contemporary of Ramsay and Burns]). For example, there are these religious but not Scottish remakings of the song:

e. by Amos Sutton, a Christian missionary of the American Sunday School Union, who in 1833 made the song into a hymn.

f. by Daniel Whyte III, a Christian minister and writer, likewise, in 2010, who made this — “Happy New Year Song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ Recreated for Christians

g. by Rabbi Alex, of Temple Sinai – A Reconstructionist Synagogue in Buffalo, NY, USA, gives one of his “Torah Tidbits” on the web, that makes connections from Robert Burns to Guy Lombardo to a “custom of crossing hands” to “a very powerful ritual from the Joseph story” to see that it is “to trip us up, to make us aware as we head into the New Year that we should expect the unexpected” to “the ultimate message of the book of Genesis.”

So whose is Auld Lang Syne? Somebody else’s? Mine, Yours, Theirs? Ours together? In different ways, new ways, old ways, similar ways, ways we all understand, ways we’ve forgotten but talk about remembering every year?

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