Since the COVID pandemic, hasn’t it felt like your life has been in some sort of holding pattern? The years have been filled with unusual challenges and lifestyle changes. We have had to adjust to unexpected demands with new responses. Now another.

Over the past few weeks, we have been thinking about some of the music that stirs our hearts at the holiday season. Perhaps it is appropriate to think of the end of the year in a similar manner. If there is a national anthem for the new year, it is the song “Auld Lang Syne.”

The composer of the Scottish tune is considered unknown, but the words are generally attributed to Scotland’s beloved poet, Robert Burns. Although there are actually five verses to the tune, New Year’s celebrations tend to only focus on the first verse and chorus. The song itself has no specific reference to the new year.

The words “auld lang syne” are lifted directly from the Scottish language. Translated literally into English, they mean “old long since.” The words can be understood to mean “for old times’ sake” or “since long ago.” The lyrics of the song tell about two old friends meeting at a pub, having a drink and recalling memories and moments they shared long ago.

Robert Burns first wrote the text in 1788, but the poem was not published until after his death in 1796. Burns was a regular contributor to the musical journal, “Scots Musical Museum.” James Johnson published “Auld Lang Syne” as a tribute to Burns, who had noted the words were taken from “an old man singing.” The song was first published with a different tune than the one to which we are familiar.

Americans are most familiar with the tune thanks to Canadian-born bandleader Guy Lombardo. His band, The Royal Canadians, played the song to usher in the new year at a New Year’s Eve party held at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. The tune became the band’s signature piece. Later the festivities moved to the Waldorf Astoria.

Big bands had become incredibly popular, but most were reluctant to perform live on radio. Lombardo, who had developed a unique band sound that was, above everything else, extremely “danceable.” He began performing shows on CBS radio on a weekly basis and for special events. On New Year’s Eve in 1929, his radio show moved from CBS to NBC. To mark the occasion, and to bridge the gap, the band played the tune “Auld Lang Syne” as the broadcast moved from one network to another and as the calendar followed suit with the year.

So what do old friends talk about when they sit around the table at a restaurant? What kind of times do they remember?

Friends remember events, times they shared together. Interestingly, we usually remember bad memories more quickly and in greater detail than good ones. Studies have shown that negative emotions like fear, anger or sadness trigger increased activity in the part of the brain that focuses on memory.

But the research also shows negative events skew our memory as well. The eyewitnesses to a severe accident or shooting remember the crash or the gun, but may not notice the details of the surroundings. They remember the shooting, but may not remember what the shooter looked like. In addition, psychologists tell us that bad memories linger.

Friends remember adventures. When we overcome obstacles, meet challenges or reach new goals, the moments are always more enjoyable when they are shared. Someone once said, “Life was meant for good friends and great adventures.”

Friends also remember people. For many of us, people and relationships are an assumed part of living. When we reflect on individuals who have impacted us with a friend, their importance becomes more vivid. Together we become mindful of the value of the right people in our lives.

The word “remember” is found about 240 times in the Bible. We are urged to remember people that have played important roles in our lives. Many times we are encouraged to remember by using a physical “marker” that will serve as a memorial every time we see it. Let’s talk about a biblical encouragement about remembering, and we will finish by adding “auld lang syne” to the mix.

An interesting story resonates with our discussion in 1 Samuel 7:12-13. The prophet Samuel wanted the Israelites to remember that God had helped them in times of trouble when they humbled themselves before Him. Samuel took a stone and set it in a visible location and called the stone “Ebenezer” — Hebrew for “stone of help.” The prophet concluded that God rescued His people.

Do you have “things” that are monuments to remind you of how God has intervened in your life, perhaps even through COVID? The Bible is filled with symbols to remind us of important people and events. We rely on things like a cross on a necklace, a quotation on the wall, a favorite hymn, or even a small cracker or bread.

As we reach the end of the year, we need a spiritual “auld lang syne.” What if we did our remembering with a friend? There is an adage that reminds “the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.” Teaching, explaining or just talking about it to someone else is a proven way to make the concepts concrete in our minds. Researchers call this “The Protege Effect.”

As you reflect on the importance of your faith during past year, join Samuel in saying, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.”

Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at

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