We have often heard the phrase “out with the old, in with the new” and with December 31 rapidly approaching, it seems an appropriate statement — out with 2018 and in with 2019.
We recall the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when the whole town rescues Jimmy Stewart from debtor’s prison on Christmas Eve. As they arrive to bring needed funds, they sing “Auld Lang Syne”.
Every New Year’s Eve, when the clock counts down the seconds to the beginning of the new year, we sing, or hear the singing of, “Auld Lang Syne”. Specifically, we hear it played and sung when we watch the ball drop at Times Square in New York at the exact moment when the new year begins in the Eastern Time Zone. Across the globe, this song frequently has its first notes sung at the end of one year and its last note sung in the first moments of the next year.
But, this year, I wondered what, exactly, we were singing when we spouted those words from our lips.
Apparently, I am not the only one who has questioned this tradition. One article I read said that historians call this the “song that nobody knows” but that we all try to sing on an annual basis! But, when you sing “for auld lang syne,” what are you saying?
The song was known as early as 1588 when it was part of the oral tradition of getting drunk and singing. In 1788, the Scottish poet Robert Burns said that “Auld Lang Syne” was an old song dictated to him by an old man so that he could put the word down on paper. Burns, therefore, did not write the poem but he put it together from what the old man told him.
After getting new life from Burns, “Auld Lang Syne” spread out into the world of pop culture, particularly in his homeland of Scotland. Meant to bring up feelings of nostalgia and a love of old relationships and times gone by, the song is still sung right before the clock hits midnight in Scotland and in many places across the world.
But, really… what do those old-timey English words translate to?
“Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And never brought to mind? / Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And auld lang syne.”
In the most literal sense, auld lang syne can be roughly translated to “old long since.” Since those words don’t form a real phrase in modern English, they really mean “long, long ago,” “a long time ago,” or “days gone by.” So, when you sing “auld lang syne, my dear” in the chorus, you’re essentially cheering the old days of the past.
The full text of the song presents a series of rhetorical questions, all amounting to the point that unless you are totally devoid of any emotion or memory, that is unless you are dead inside, you ought to be able to recognize the value of reconnecting with old friends and pondering old times.
This thought is very consistent with Scripture. In the Bible we read much about remembering.
God says that He will remember:
“I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God commands that we should remember certain things:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
“So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.”
Jesus told us to remember Him and His words:
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.””
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.“
The angels told the disciples to remember after Jesus’ resurrection:
“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
And we should remember the days of our past:
“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.”
While the song “Auld Lang Syne” had its genesis in a drinking song, and while it is often sung now with alcohol flowing freely, for the Christian the song could remind us of the very words of David in Psalm 143. Remember the days of old. Think and meditate on what God has done. Consider and ruminate on the work of His hands. Let the new year be a springboard for your spirit to sing out praises to our Lord and Savior, to our Redeemer-King.
So, out with the old and in with the new … But don’t forget the old times, the old friends, the old experiences. Don’t forget the wondrous things God has done for you in the past and ponder on His love and mercy, His grace and goodness, His incredible salvation through Jesus Christ.
Let your memories thrive so that your new memories will be ever so much more meaningful.
Father, I pray that we would take Auld Lang Syne and use that song speaking of days gone past to remind us of Your mighty works in, through and for us throughout our lives. May we praise our Lord and Savior for His love and mercy in the past and in the new year as well. May we be witnesses of Your love to others, through Jesus Christ our Lord.