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What 'Auld Lang Syne' Means, and How It Became a New Year's Eve Staple

Regardless of how you celebrate New Year's Eve, it's pretty much inevitable that you'll hear a few bars of 'Auld Lang Syne' at some point. But while anyone can sing (or at least slur) the chorus of 'Auld Lang Syne,' few understand what the lyrics mean or why it's become a New Year's Eve staple.

Turns out, 'Auld the Scottish folk ditty is about remembering past and present friends and celebrating fellowship with a hearty drink, making it an ideal anthem for New Year's Eve. The title, which comes from Scotland's native dialect, Scots - translates to "for old time's sake," which is exactly why most of us meet up to renew old acquaintances every December 31st.

But beyond that thematic relevance, there's nothing particularly New Years-y about the tune. In fact, Robert Burns - the renowned 18th Century poet who popularized the song - promoted it at a time when Scottish traditions were falling away as his country became increasingly absorbed into the culture and customs of England. So to Burns, 'Auld Lang Syne' isn't about celebrating the new; it's about preserving a cherished past.

The song didn't become associated with New Year's Eve until 90 years ago, when Guy Lombardo and his orchestra - the Royal Canadians - began playing the annual NYE parties held at Manhattan's Roosevelt Hotel. Since those sets were broadcast across the country, listeners from coast to coast could partake in the same NYE celebration via radio. And by wrapping those gigs with their classic rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne,' Lombardo cemented it as a New Year's song in American culture.  

For more info on 'Auld Lang Syne,' check out this explainer from Vox.


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