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“Auld Lang Syne” carries echoes of Benedict XVI and Christ himself

J-P Mauro - published on 12/31/22

Aleteia wishes all of you and your acquaintances a happy and safe New Year's Eve. It is good that you exist.

Happy New Year to all of Aleteia’s readers. For the last week we’ve been providing some wonderful hymns and carols to keep the Christmas season sounding fresh and today we have another. “Auld Lang Syne” is the most popular traditional song for the English-speaking world to ring in the new year and, while it may not be expressly a Christian hymn, it is thematically very close to the heart of the faith.

Originating as a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, “Auld Lang Syne” was set to the popular melody it still uses today in 1799. The titular phrase literally translates to “old long since,” but its looser translation of “for old time’s sake” is the generally accepted use of the phrase. 

The lyrics open with a rhetorical question, “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” The answer is practically provided by the sentimental pentatonic melody which drives the listeners’ minds to the good times long past and those with whom they have been shared. At its heart, “Auld Lang Syne” is imploring us to remember and love our neighbors and share a cup of peace at the start of the new year. 

This love of one’s neighbors, each and every one of them, is further suggested by the use of the word “acquaintance.” Burns specifically chose a word which encompasses more than just our good friends and family members, but also everyone we may have met, even if we don’t know them very well. Through this, the message becomes “no one should be forgotten,” which comes very close to the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “It is good that you exist.” 

That the question is rhetorical also allows the answer to become subjective to each listener and this expands the meaning to become greater than if the answer had been provided. Perhaps, in our remembrance, we recall an occasion when one of our acquaintances had wronged us.

We may not be on good terms with every one of our acquaintances, but Burn’s poem doesn’t leave room to pick and choose who makes the cut. Rather, he encourages us to remember all of our old acquaintances. In this vein the song could be considered as a suggestion that we might forgive the trespasses against us, as we were directed to do by Christ when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer.

To terrifically tackle the Celtic tones of the tune, we have selected a rendition performed by the Choral Scholars of the University College Dublin. This choir gives the piece a remarkable treatment, which includes some creative use of dynamics and overtones (especially in the droning bass part). 

We wish all of our readers a happy and safe new year as we ring in 2023, and welcome you all to join us in remembering all of our acquaintances from 2022, for auld lang syne. 

Christian MusicHolidaysScotland
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