In the past 80 years, singing this song at the stroke of the New Year has evolved into an American tradition. Brits, particularly Scotts, carried the song with them over the centuries as they migrated, but Conductor Guy Lombardo brought it to the collective consciousness of America starting in 1929.
The song as we know it was first written by Scottish poet, Robert Burns in 1788. However, the written version was in large part a compilation of various stanzas, of numerous versions, of an old and varied traditional Scottish song.
The phrase "of auld lang syne" translates from Scotch to English as "of old long ago."
"Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?" It is a song of new beginnings. Should we start anew and forget our grudges and family feuds? Should we put the past to rest by agreement and forge a new future together?
More than many, this year portends new beginnings. Change is always unsettling. Even good changes are typically stressful. Yet change is inevitable -- except from a vending machine.
It appears to me that two major currents in history are coming to an end at more or less the same time. Big changes may well be nigh.
First, the end of the 20th Century is now at hand. 1901 didn't seem a whole lot different from 1899, but the teens did. The first eight months of 2001 didn't seem a lot different from 1999. I suspect the teens will be an even greater demarcation between the centuries. The 19th century came to a crashing end in 1914 with the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand and the onset of the Great World War. The industrial revolution of the 19th Century brought about killing with mechanized efficiency.
The Ottoman Empire, less industrial than Europe, and governed more by traditional family alliances than as a bureaucratic "modern" empire, crumbled and collapsed. Imperial Russia came to an end with the Russian Revolution of 1917, removing Russia from the Great War. The Hapsburg's faded and the Austro Hungarian Empire fractured and sued for peace. Germany, unable to stand alone, was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. With that, the Allies carved up the Ottoman, Russian, and Austrian empires. These events lead directly to World War II.
A half century of mechanized butchery lead to the idea of a "one world government" and a "new world order." After all, if we all become one family, surely we won't kill each other. In 1950, the Treaty of Rome was signed which obligated all of Western Europe to form a common market, and then adopt a common currency, the Euro Dollar, then become the United States of Europe. But the sands of time do not often drift where predicted. The Euro Dollar quickly became the Euro and the European confederation rejected its intended name in favor of the European Union. Today, the E.U. seriously considers dissolution.
The second dissolving current in history is social and economic collectivism. The ideas of Socialism and Communism took root in the early to mid 18th Century. In 1789 these ideas sprouted into the French Revolution. A Europe wide communist revolution was attempted in 1848. The ideas blossomed in 1917 when Russia, the Soviet Union, became the first official communist state. After driving out the Japanese, General Chang Kai-shek contested with General Mao for rulership of China. In 1950, Chang lost and China became communist. Socialism then took root throughout Europe, spread to Africa, then Central and South America. Slowest to be seduced by the idea, the United States took substantial steps in that direction this past year.
Communism, even socialism, (but not totalitarianism) has been firmly rejected by Eastern Europe, most of Africa, and most of Latin America with a few notable exceptions. It has been unofficially rejected throughout Asia. Socialism persists in Western Europe, North America, and a few other isolated pockets.
Refusing to learn from the fall of the Soviet Block and the emerging Asian economic tigers, the E.U. is now facing the same financial collapse experienced by the communists before them. We in the U.S., slowly creeping down the socialist path, can see the same potential fate on the horizon before us.
One way or another, Europe and North America, will have to join the rest of the world by taking a different path. It remains to be seen if either will have the intestinal fortitude to voluntarily subject itself to the pain of change or whether change will be forced upon them causing even greater suffering.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my joy, for auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne."
Change, although unsettling, is virtually always near at hand. May we all take a cup o' kindness, and mindfully put to rest days of auld lang syne.
May your New Year be happy, prosperous, and filled with positive changes.