It's New Year's Day.
And we observe New Year's Day, in part, because we follow the Gregorian calendar which was decreed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.
I found all of that out in about two minutes of clicking and Googling and Wilkipedia-ing.
Encouraged and energized by the ease with which I was able to unearth those interesting factoids, I moved ahead to the question which has become as much a holiday tradition to me as untangling gnarly balls of lights and watching Ralphie lobby for the Red Ryder.
Why do we sing "Auld Lang Syne"?
This is what I found with a little clicking, Googling and Wilkipedia-ing...
"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song .It is well known in many English-speaking (and other) countries and is often sung to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. By extension, its use has also become common at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.
The song's Scots title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long long ago"or "days gone by".
Well, as the folks at Staples would say, that was easy.
Oh... and as to how it ended up in our collective consciousness as the song we automatically sing when Pavlov rings the New Year's bell...
Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (and other Britons) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.
Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is often credited with popularising the use of the song at New Year’s celebrations in America, through his annual broadcasts on radio and television, beginning in 1929. The song became his trademark. In addition to his live broadcasts, Lombardo recorded the song more than once. His first recording was in 1939. A later recording on September 29, 1947 was issued as a single by Decca Records
So, it turns out that, after eighty years, the answer to the question "why do we sing Auld Lang Syne" is...
Because we do.
Traditions are funny like that. If you're like me, you sometimes just assume that most traditions have some deep rooted, long standing, fascinating, intrinsically historic, possibly even sacred, origin.
Yeah, I suppose some do.
On the other hand, it's also probable a lot of traditions become traditions simply because something happens, it gets repeated by someone, the word gets out, everybody starts doing it and, next thing you know...
Like singing "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year's.
Even though few know what it means, how it relates to the occasion or even sing it correctly, for that matter.
It's "auld", not "old".
And "syne", not "sign".
But sing it we do and sing it we must.
Because it's traditional.
I'm old fashioned enough to respect that some traditions need to be left alone. But I don't have any problem suggesting that others might benefit from a refurb.
For example, I, like many of you, believe that "America The Beautiful" would be a national anthem far superior to "The Star Spangled Banner."
And I'm fairly sure I wouldn't miss "Auld Lang Syne" if it went "au revoir".
Always willing to be a part of the solution, though (not to mention the chance to throw in my two cents), here's a few suggestions for songs to possibly shore up the musical part of the celebration of each change of calendar:
"Reelin In The Years"-Steely Dan...probably too hardcore for some and the lyrics are a little hard to decipher, but certainly no more so obscure than "in days of auld lang syne"...
"Seven Year Ache"-Rosanne Cash...naahh...too morose...and it would only be good for seven years...
"Time Has Come Today"-The Chambers Brothers...now, that's a little more like it...comes complete with dance groove and the cowbell/woodblock tick tock thing...be a little hard to do the romantic smoochy thing, though, with that guy yelling out "TIME!" over and over again...
"In The Year 2525"- Zaeger and Evans...well, hell, let's cancel the party, slash our wrists and be done with it...
"It Was A Very Good Year"-Frank Sinatra...a lovely and introspective piece that would very nicely set the mood for looking back poignantly...can't quite hear the piercing kazoo like sound of the noisemaker jiving with "when I was seventeen..", though...
"Time In A Bottle"-Jim Croce...again, poignant and folky, but picture those guys in The Poseidon Adventure standing in a circle, hands locked together, rocking back and forth, singing loud and proud 'IF I COULD PUT TIME IN A BOTTLE....!".....doesn't quite fly...
"No Time"-The Guess Who...uh, probably only really appropriate at the very last New Year's Eve Celebration...
"Feels Like The First Time"- Foreigner...a lot of people would confuse this one with "Like A Virgin" and the last thing you want to draw attention to at a drunken gathering of hotties is virginity...
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"-Chicago...this one comes pretty close...it's singalong-able and it includes a happy go lucky attitude (" does anybody really care...abouhhhht tiiiiime...")...doesn't really work without the big brass section, though, and the terms "New Year's" and "spit valve" just don't go together all that well...
Along the way, it occurred to me that maybe some traditions stay put because it's simply too much work to find an alternative.
If it ain't broke and all that.
But, finally, I came up with the song I think would be a lot more heartfelt, relatable and poignant as we close the book on one year and open the book on another...
Catchy. Romantic. Familiar. Poignant. Danceable.
And, arguably, able to withstand the addition of a couple hundred kazoo like noisemakers.
At the very least, the damn words make sense.
It's a whole lot easier to explain "when two lovers woo" than to explain "drink a cup of kindness yet, in auld lang syne", not to mention that the song acutally mentions kissing.
And a whole new batch of offspring traditions could follow.
Like TBS doing a New Year's Day all day marathon of back to back to back to back showings of "Casablanca".
Bogie and Bergman could replace the old man handing off the new year to the baby.
Bars named "Rick's Cafe Americain" would pack 'em in every Dec 31st.
Inviting folks to your party would become "rounding up the usual suspects..".
And the blatantly obvious champagne toast at midnight...?
"Here's lookin at you, kid..."
Inevitably, naysayers will offer up that well enough should be left alone.
But leaving well enough alone really isn't what I do.