The Surprising Reason ‘Auld Lang Syne’ Is the Official Song of New Year’s

Every New Year’s Eve, millions of people are treated to the sound of a catchy song they don’t understand. “Auld Lang Syne” is one of the few songs associated with New Year’s in the Western World. However, few know why it became associated with the holiday. Here’s what the song means and how it became a New Year’s anthem.

A New Year’s Eve celebration from 1947 | Bettmann

‘Auld Lang Syne’ is ubiquitous – and not widely understood

“Auld Lang Syne” is popular in the English-speaking world. This is a touch unexpected, given that it’s not an English language song. It’s in the Scots language. According to Vox, the title phrase literally translates to “old long since.” The phrase’s English equivalent may be “the olden days” or “old times.”

Just because the song isn’t in English doesn’t mean that English speakers can’t know its lyrics. For instance, many people who speak English know the lyrics to songs like “Gangnam Style” and “Despacito” well enough. However, research from Sainsbury’s shows that only 3% of people from the United Kingdom know the words to the song.

Although a language barrier prevents many from understanding “Auld Lang Syne,” the song has a pretty universal meaning. “Auld Lang Syne” is about meeting with old friends, having a drink, and reminiscing about the good old days. What song could possibly fit more with New Year’s celebrations?

Why some think Mariah Carey was behind the song

Mariah Carey | Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation

No one knows who wrote the song. However, we do know it became more popular when Scotland’s most beloved poet, Robert Burns, published it as a poem. Burns may not be as popular in the United States as he once was. Despite this, a poll showed that 80% of Scottish people knew of his connection to the ballad, showing that he is still near to the hearts of his countrymen.

Burn’s standing in the rest of the United Kingdom is in question. The same poll found that 3% of Brits between the ages of 18 and 24 thought Mariah Carey penned the song. Carey recorded a dance-pop version of “Auld Lang Syne” for her Christmas album, Merry Christmas II You.

Carey’s rendition of the song features some extra lyrics were she extols the listener to “have a drink on me.” Although Carey’s fellow Americans didn’t embrace the cover, it was apparently popular enough in the U.K. that many younger people associate her with the track.

Why did the song become popular?

Guy Lombardo | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The tune of “Auld Lang Syne” might be world famous, but the man who brought it to the masses is often forgotten. “Auld Lang Syne” may not have become an international phenomenon if not for Guy Lombardo. A Canadian of Italian ancestry, Lombardo was the lead of a big band act called Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians.

Each year, Lombardo would play the song as part of his New Year’s programming. His show was so popular it helped to bring the tune to a global audience. Now, people who have never been anywhere near Scotland associate a Scottish ballad with a popular holiday.