Search billions of records on


From the Green Valley News, Sunday 28 December 2008, page B8

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

For Auld Lang Syne

As holidays go, New Year’s must rank as one of the oldest. The first New Year’s celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C. in mid-March. While the earliest Roman calendars designated the year began in March, Julius Caesar decreed the year to begin on January 1 in 46 B.C.

The Julian calendar was based on a lunar year. As time passed it became grossly inaccurate until the year was actually beginning in March again by 567 A.D. The disparity did not bother medieval Europeans, who banished New Year’s festivities as pagan and unchristian. Even so New Year’s celebrations continued on various dates including December 25, coinciding with the birth of Jesus; on March 1; on March 25, date of the Feast of the Annunciation; and on Easter.

In 1582 Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian calendar with a Leap Year every four years to more accurately keep time in accordance with the solar year. January 1 was restored as the first day of the year. The Roman Catholic Church and countries where it was the state church immediately adopted the new calendar. Other countries adopted the amended calendar at various dates and had to adjust for the time lapsed between 1582 and the date of adoption.

Great Britain and her American Colonies made the switch on September 2, 1752. Millions of Englishmen on both sides of the Atlantic, including our colonial ancestors, went to bed on September 2 and got up on September 13. Those eleven days were banished forever. Other Protestant countries waited even longer with Greece being the last to adapt in 1923. Some Orthodox churches continue to follow the Julian calendar, now 13 days behind the Gregorian.

So how did Auld Lang Syne become "the" song for New Year’s Eve? It began as a poem written by Scots poet Robert Burns around 1793. He apparently borrowed some of the words from earlier poems and folk songs, but he claimed to be the first to put it into writing after hearing an old man singing it. Auld Lang Syne was not published until after Burns’ death in 1796, and singing it on New Year’s Eve quickly became a Scots custom. As the Scots immigrated to other countries they brought their traditional music and celebrations along.

The first official report of Americans singing Auld Lang Syne is a newspaper article describing how New Year’s revelers joined hands at midnight and sang as the last stroke of 12 sounded in Lenox, Massachusetts. Guy Lombardo is credited with popularizing the song in the U.S. when he played it on his 1929 New Year’s Eve radio broadcast. It quickly became his trademark and a New Year’s tradition for his band, played on his radio and television shows into the 1970s. Now we hear it on virtually every televised New Year’s Eve broadcast annually.

Auld Lang Syne could be translated to mean "once upon a time," or "old long ago." It is said to be one of the most famous songs ever, and is sung in such disparate translations as German and Japanese. It is probably one of the most misunderstood songs however, due to the difficulty singers have in understanding the Scottish dialect. To hear the song on the bagpipe as it was first played, visit

Enjoy singing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, and don’t worry about the calendar; it won’t be out of sync with the sun again for over 3000 years.

Home Page
744 visitors since
12 January 2009
Page revised
29 January 2009
Valid XHTML 1.0