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Auld Lang Syne: its writer, history and how to sing along

Hogmanay on Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Hogmanay on Calton Hill, Edinburgh.

When the clock strikes midnight on Hogmanay, many of us around the world will celebrate by singing Auld Lang Syne. But do you know all the lyrics or even the meaning of this famous centuries-old folk song? Discover what the Scots words in Auld Lang Syne mean, why Robert Burns wrote it and why we all love it so much.

Auld Lang Syne was written down by Robert Burns in 1788 to preserve the Scottish language and culture after Scotland and England had formed the UK in 1707. Burns decided to travel around the country to collect and publish old Scots poetry and songs, so that this bit of Scotland’s spoken history wouldn’t fade from memory. Auld Lang Syne was one of the songs he found and features a mix of Scots and English words.

The title is written in Scots, which is a language similar to English. The latest census in 2011 showed that around 1.5 million Scottish people reported being able to speak Scots fluently. Auld Lang Syne  literally translates to ‘old long since’ and is about remembering the good old days.

Performers at Celtic Connections

Singers at Celtic Connections, Glasgow

The song’s simple and nostalgic melody made it popular at home and abroad. It was adapted as a soul song by Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles, a bluegrass song by Andrew Bird and a rock and roll song by Jimmy Hendrix.

Many different countries adapted or translated the lyrics and used it for sentimental events, such as the US Civil War song I wish the war was o’er! or the Dutch football anthem Wij houden van Oranje, in which the singer longs for the team to finally win the Euro Cup. It also appears in some sentimental movie scenes, such as in Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and When Harry Met Sally (1989).

As we prepare to welcome in another year, we wanted to celebrate Hogmanay and Scotland’s unique and endearing culture with you. You might be more familiar with the full English adaptation of Auld Lang Syne by Guy Lombardo if you’re not from Scotland. But now you can sing along with us Scots in the original version, as we’ve given you the sheet music and the full original song with explanations of the Scots words so that you can sing along (and know what you’re singing!).

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne1?





Old long since / for old times’ sake. 


For auld lang syne, my jo2,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll tak’3 a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.


2 My dear.


3 Take.



And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp4!

and surely I’ll be mine!

we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.


4 You’ll buy your pint glass.





We twa hae run about the braes5,

and pou’d the gowans fine6;

But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fitt7,

sin’8 auld lang syne.


5 We two have run about the hills.

6 Picked the fine daisies.

7 Many a weary foot.

8 Since.


We twa hae paidl’d in the burn9,

frae morning sun till dine10;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d11

sin’ auld lang syne.


9 Paddled in the burn / paddled in the stream.

10 From the morning sun till dinner time.

11 But seas between us broad have roared.



And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere12!

and gie’s a hand o’ thine13!

And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie-waught14,

for auld lang syne.


12 Friend.

13 And give us a hand of thine!

[Reference to the cross-armed dance

you do in a circle at Christmas.]

14 Good-will draught / merry sip from a pint.


You might not be able to travel here to Scotland right now for Hogmanay, but you can still sing along with us and raise a glass to a fabulous 2021 and a future trip to Scotland! Click here for more great Scottish events (such as St Andrew’s Day), traditional folk festivals or interesting facts about Robert Burns.