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Happy New Year! Some facts on the worldwide reach of “Auld Lang Syne”

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It is finally 2018 here in Washington. Happy New Year everyone!

Chances are high that you are listening — or singing — to “Auld Lang Syne.” If not, I went ahead and put Mariah Carey’s version, which is one of many out there. If I put Carey’s world famous Christmas Carol last Monday, might as well have her again for New Years’ right?

So, this piece will be totally off-topic. It’s the new year, and I don’t have much else to do. So ... about that song. What are the origins of “Auld Lang Syne?” and where can I hear it anytime of year in public? Let’s find out!

The Scottish origins of “Auld Lang Syne”

Scots Celebrate The Anniversary Of The Birth Of Robert Burns
Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the poem “Auld Lang Syne” in 1788. This is a statue of him in Dumfries, Scotland, United Kingdom.
Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“Auld Lang Syne” was written in 1788 by Robert Burns, a Scottish poet. However, the whole idea of the song may not come entirely from Burns himself. According to Caitlin Schneider of Mental Floss, he received inspiration of the song from “Old Long Syne,” a ballad by James Watson, which was written in 1711. The song is traditionally sung by Scots as they hold hands in a circle before midnight, according to Scotland.org.

The tune of “Auld Lang Syne” is one of the world’s most recognizable. But it’s not just a New Year’s Day song. Let’s explore where you can hear it in different contexts, not just today.

“Auld Lang Syne’s” use in the USA outside of New Year’s Day

Most Americans think of the “Auld Lang Syne” tune as a New Year’s Day thing. But it’s used a lot more than you think. Here are just a couple examples:

The song “America the Beautiful”

Mt. Rushmore Closed Due To Government Shutdown Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The song “America the Beautiful” is one of several songs that just SCREAM Americana, along with other hits like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” You are probably most familiar with the version by the late Ray Charles:

But the tune Charles sang was composed by Samuel A. Ward in 1882. The lyrics came from a poem Katherine Lee Bates first wrote in 1893. Before the song was sung in its current format — which first happened in 1910 — it was sung to the “Auld Lang Syne” tune, like below:

Furthermore, this song may have very well been the United States’ official national anthem, according to Espie Estrella of ThoughtCo. Wow!

“The Good Old Song” at the University of Virginia

University Of Virginia Students In Charlottesville Back On Campus For Start Of New School Year Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The famous New Year’s Day tune has a regional connection with D.C. The University of Virginia’s de facto alma mater is called “The Good Old Song” which is played after every touchdown during UVA’s football games.

Below, you can hear The Virginia Gentlemen, UVA’s oldest a capella group singing the song back in 2013. Therefore, the people singing this song in all likelihood aren’t current students, but here’s the song for your listening pleasure:

“Auld Lang Syne’s” use outside of the English speaking world

“Auld Lang Syne” can also be heard outside of New Year’s in countries where English is not an official language. It is sung quite a bit in Asia, where the tune itself came through American influence. Like in the United States, the tune is quite adaptable for many different contexts. Here are some notable examples:

“Hotaru no Hikari” in Japan

In Japan, many stores play the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” when they’re about to close, which is bizarre to westerners:

The song is called “Hotaru no Hikari (蛍の光)” which literally translates into “Glow of a Firefly.” The lyrics are about students who don’t have any other light source besides a firefly’s light. But at some point, it’s time to stop. So, the song has somewhat of a sad connotation, since it’s a farewell tune.

You can also hear “Hotaru no Hikari” at graduation ceremonies and of course, right when the new year begins, like Yuko Sensei says in this YouTube video.

“Aegukga” in Korea

Lighting and Handover Ceremonies of the Olympic Flame for PyeongChang 2018 Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

For those of you familiar with Asian history, Korea (meaning both current day South Korea and North Korea) was part of the Japanese empire from 1910-1945. What many people may not know right away is that Korea had a government in exile operating in Shanghai and Chongqing, China from 1919-1948.

The national anthem of the Korean government in exile was called “Aegukga (애국가)” or “The Patriotic Song.” The lyrics were written in the early 1900’s though it’s unclear who actually wrote it. And the tune? You guessed it!

If you are Korean, you’ll notice that the lyrics to the above tune sound very familiar to you. That’s because they are the same lyrics of the current national anthem of South Korea. It is still called “Aegukga.” Since 1948, this is the official tune you are more familiar with:

Before moving on from Korea, it is now two countries. So did the North keep the same lyrics as the South? No.

The current North Korean anthem has the same name as the South Korean anthem, but it has completely different lyrics. It is also spelled differently in English (“Aegukka”).

“Wij Houden Van Oranje” in the Netherlands

Netherlands v Denmark - UEFA Women's Euro 2017: Final
“Wij Houden Van Oranje” is a tune Dutch soccer fans sing to root for their team. The Netherlands women’s national soccer team won EURO 2017 last year at their home turf in Enschede.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In 1988, the late André Hazes, a famous levenslied (or “everyday Dutch life”) singer performed “Wij Houden Van Oranje,” or “We Love The Orange” for the first time. That same year, the Dutch men’s national soccer team won EURO.

30 years later, you can still hear the tune regularly when fans are rooting for the Oranje. The men’s national soccer team didn’t make this year’s World Cup in Russia, but the Dutch women’s national soccer team won EURO last year. That work took a lot of “Bloed, zweet en tranen” indeed! Regardless, Dutch soccer fans have plenty of opportunities to sing that ze houden van hun Oranje, anytime of year!

“Samakkhi Chumnum” in Thailand

Australia v Thailand - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier
The Thailand men’s national soccer team lines up before a match against Australia last September.
Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Let’s visit one more place around the world where you’ll hear the tune, but not just for New Year’s. In Thailand, you will hear “Samakkhi Chumnum (สามัคคีชุมนุม)” or “Together In Unity” played after sports matches or at the end of scout jamborees. The lyrics are about the King and uniting everyone together.


Alright, I’ve spent WAYYYYY too much time on “Auld Lang Syne” and where you can hear it in sports, or in a historical context.

We hope you enjoy the start of the year on a positive note. And if you are out and about at this time, stay safe out there!

Hopefully, the Wizards start 2018 on the right note, as Kyle Andrews wrote last weekend. But most of all, I hope you enjoy the start to 2018!