Auld Lang Syne

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  January 4, 2014

      Happy New Year! As the clock struck midnight, many raised a glass, shouted “Happy New Year,” and sang the seasonal song, “Auld Lang Syne.” Chances are, we all know the song (or at least most of it) and can sing it with great joy. It is one thing to sing it with feeling as we mark the passing of time at the New Year. Yet many of us do not understand or realize exactly what the song means. Surprisingly, it alludes to a powerful aspect of faith.
      “Auld Lang Syne” officially dates back to Scotland in 1788 when Scottish poet Robert Burns reportedly compiled the lyrics of an older song that was popular among some of the old men of his community. It was later set to the popular tune of a Scottish dance and became a popular song in Scotland and among Scottish immigrants, thus bringing the song to the United States.
      The song itself really has nothing to do with New Year’s in particular. It is actually a song of reminiscing. The fundamental meaning of the song is simply that we should never forget the old times. The old scots verse “auld lang syne” can be loosely translated into modern English to mean “for old times.” Literally, it is a song that calls to memory the importance of what has been as we move forward into what will be. It continued with a modest degree of popularity well into the next Century and beyond. Some 141 years after Burns first penned the poetry, the song was given new life by none other than Guy Lombardo.
            The nearly universal connection to midnight on New Year’s started in 1929 as the radio and music legend used the song as a transition between programs during a live performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Serendipitously, the performance was broadcast live at midnight on that New Year’s Eve and the association has remained ever since.
        The song also has interesting connections to the Christian faith. Christianity is a faith rooted in remembering! We are never to forget all that God has done in the rich biblical heritage that is or shared past. From the giants of scripture, to the saints of the Christian era, right down to the women and men in our own lives who have made God present to us today; their legacy deserves remembering and celebrating.
      The Shema, arguably the heart of Biblical Jewish piety, comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-8. It is God’s call for the people to remember and always be diligent at keeping the sacred stories of the past alive today. Jesus himself calls us to a time of sacred memory in the words we hear every Sunday, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
      Remembering is critical to our faith. It is the foundation upon which we stand as we reach forward, in faith, forget not the ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as we joyously build on the rich heritage in following God into a bright and wonderful New Year. Remembering allows us to gain strength from the past without becoming its prisoner.