The controversy over the song is arguably almost as much of a tradition as the song itself. As revelers stumble and mumble through the verses—singing the “auld lang syne” part much louder than the rest of the song because it’s really the only part people know—someone always asks what the words mean.
The title of the Scottish tune translates to “times gone by” and is about remembering friends from the past and not letting them be forgotten.
Despite its strong association with New Year’s Eve 2013, “Auld Lang Syne,” written by Robert Burns in the 1700s, was never intended to be a holiday song. Guy Lombardo was credited with popularizing the song when his band used it as a segue between two radio programs during a live performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in 1929. By coincidence, they played “Auld Lang Syne” just after the clock hit midnight, and a New Year’s tradition was born.