Why Do We Sing Auld Lang Syne at the New Year?

It was just a song they played at the end of every dance to end the night and say farewell, they had no idea that one New Year’s night would change the New Year forever.

Rebekah Drumsta
Champagne toast and sparklers

How many of us have watched the classic Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? At the end, after his, A Christmas Carol-like experience, George Bailey is reunited with his family and friends.

Holding his daughter with one arm, while embracing his wife with the other, you hear a chorus of voices ringing in the New Year together singing the beloved old song, Auld Lang Syne.

Whenever the clock strikes midnight and people burst into song, it always feels a little cheesy. So, why is Auld Lang Syne a traditional holiday or farewell song? Is there any religious significance?

Origins of Auld Lang Syne

Awkwardly, every New Year, we sing along with what words we know hoping those around us will not hear.

And you might be “today-years-old” when you learn that “old lang syne” and “auld lang syne” are both phrases in the song.

Authorship of the 18th-century poem, Auld Lang Syne, has long been associated with the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns.

Burns was a romantic who never strayed far from his humble roots of farming. He passed away of an illness before the age of 40. Historians seem to disagree as to the absolute origin of the original poem Auld Lang Syne.

Some believe Burns wrote the poem, while others believe he overheard someone singing it, found the poem already written by someone else or perhaps was inspired by other ancient poems with similar phrasing.

It must be noted that Burns never claimed to have written the poem. The composer of the familiar melody is still unknown.

The words Auld Lang Syne is Scots for “old long since.” English speakers might better understand the translation “for old times.”

Scots is a blend of ancient Gaelic and English and has been recognized in the UK by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Here is a line and chorus written in the original Scots,

We twa hae run about the braes And pu’d the gowans fine; But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot Sin auld lang syne 

For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

Is There a Christian Meaning?

Truthfully? The answer to this question is, no, the song was not written with religious meaning or background. In fact, it is a drinking song first sung in Scottish pubs! 

So, calling Auld Lang Syne a Christian song is not possible, but before you throw it out, remember this, the music for one of the most loved songs of all time, Amazing Grace, was originally a popular bar tune.

Review the English translation of the entire poem for yourself:

Should old acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, And old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne, We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! And surely I’ll buy mine! And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes, And picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, Since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream, From morning sun till dine; But seas between us broad have roared Since auld lang syne.

 And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good will draught, For auld lang syne.

However, in Robert Burn’s work often there are religious connections such as seen in this excerpt of his poem, Address To The Devil

It would seem Burns did wrestle with faith during his lifetime.

O Prince! O Chief of many throned powers! That led the embattled seraphim to war.
 Milton.
 O You! Whatever title suit you — Old Horny, Satan, Nick, or Hoofy — Who in yonder cavern grim and sooty, Closed under hatches, Splashes about the brimstone dish, To scald poor wretches!

Hear me, Old Hangman, for a little, And let poor damned bodies be; I am sure small pleasure it can give, Even to a devil, To spank and scald poor dogs like me And hear us squeal.

 Great is your power and great your fame; Far known and noted is your name; And though yon flaming hollow is your home, You travels far; And faith! you are neither backward, nor lame, Nor backward, nor afraid.

Burn’s last known written expression on religion or Christianity came about 18 months before his death, penned in a letter:

What a transient business is life! Very lately I was a boy; but t’other day I was a young man; and I already begin to feel the rigid fibre and stiffening joints of Old Age coming fast o’er my frame.  With all my follies of youth, and fear, a few vices of manhood, still I congratulate myself on having had in early day religion strongly impressed on my mind. 

I have nothing to say to any body, as, to which Sect they belong, or what Creed they believe; but I look on the Man who is firmly persuaded of Infinite Wisdom and Goodness superintending and directing every circumstance that can happen in his lot — I felicitate such a man as having a solid foundation for his mental enjoyment; a firm prop to sure stay, in the hour of difficulty, trouble and distress: and a never-failing anchor of hope, when he looks beyond the grave.

When Did Auld Lang Syne Become Popular?

It wasn’t until the renowned Big Band leader, Guy Lombardo, played the song at a New Year’s party in 1929 that it became an expected tune for holiday parties or farewell events. Unexpectedly, he started the trend.

To the band, it was just a song they played at the end of every dance to end the night and say farewell, they had no idea that one New Year’s night would change New Year’s Eve for everyone.

In a 1965 interview with LIFE Magazine, Lombardo is quoted, 

Auld Lang Syne is our theme song — and was long before and was long before anyone ever heard us on the radio. In our particular part of Ontario, where there’s a large Scottish population, it was traditional for bands to end every dance with Auld Lang Syne. We didn’t think it was known here. When we left Canada, we never thought we’d play it again.

We’ll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet

In 2012, the Christian group, Kings Kaleidoscope released their album, Joy Has Dawned, which included new words to the tune of Auld Lang Syne:

Should nothing of our efforts stand No legacy survive Unless the Lord does raise the house In vain its builders strive

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain Tell me what is your life A mist that vanishes at dawn All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king! All glory be to Christ! His rule and reign we’ll ever sing, All glory be to Christ!

His will be done His kingdom come On earth as is above Who is Himself our daily bread Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy The thirsty without price We’ll take a cup of kindness yet All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king! All glory be to Christ! His rule and reign will ever sing, All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am The faithful and the true The Lamb who was for sinners slain Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us And be our steadfast light And we shall ere his people be All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king! All glory be to Christ! His rule and reign will ever sing, All glory be to Christ!

Woven within the original Auld Lang Syne poem are elements of Christian teachings:

  • Kindness
  • Friendship
  • Trust

Especially after 2020 — the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, social tensions, economic crisis, and heated elections — choosing to share a cup ‘o kindness as we enter a new year would be a very Christian thing to do.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/shironosov


AuthorRebekah Drumsta’s work has been globally reaching by serving with various nonprofits and organizations. Her background is diverse including educational and online content development, event coordinating, international relations, and public speaking. Currently, Rebekah delights in being a homeschool mom and Life Coach. She serves as Director of PR for an international non-profit while also hosting her personal blog, RebekahDrumsta.com which focuses on recovery after religious trauma and spiritual abuse. Rebekah holds a BA in Urban Ministry and Family Crisis with a Christian Counseling Minor, an MA in Religious Education, and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. She has made appearances on and consulted with sources including BBC, NBC, ABC, The Daily Telegraph, and a variety of other platforms.


Originally published December 14, 2020.