By Seán Hall

The traditional New Year ballad of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, deriving from the Scots term for ‘Once Upon a Time’, has been heralded at various events for ringing in the New Year be at New Year’s parties, or in the movies.

The words of the popular song were written by Robert Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire, in 1788, with some borrowing from older Scottish poems.

The tune is certainly based on several older ones dating back centuries to the Scottish pagan festival of Hogmanay.

Hogmanay is the Scots word for New Year’s Eve, its origins as a festival shrouded in mystery back to both the Celtic and Norse pagan societies of Scotland.

Robert Burns was born on 25th January, 1759, in the Scottish county of Ayrshire, to a farming family.

Far more than an auteur of tunes sung at New Year, Burns is associated with the Romanticist movement which flourished at the end of the 18th century, seen to be born from the likes of Burns and other pioneers such as Goethe in Germany.
Burn’s references to ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ in his writing suggest a certain affection for the old tune, even as he wrote it.

In a letter to his famed admirer, Mrs Dunlop, he said of the original tune’s author; “….Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven inspired Poet who composed this glorious fragment.” Burns sees this song, slightly pagan in its origin, to be inspired by some sort of divine providence.

Continue reading in our New Year Annual 2016