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  • Reverend James Squire

The Song Nobody Knows

We will hear “Auld Lang Syne” sung on New Year’ s Eve. We have all faked our way through it at gatherings as historians refer to it as the song that nobody knows. The song appeared in Scottish songs as early as 1588. Robert Burns took the Scottish ballad and put it to the words that we know, more or less, today. It has many origins and meanings for the words mean “the good old times, old long since, the olden days.” It is a song that celebrates friendship with the first verse: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?”

It has changed in meaning over the years since it was brought to America by the Scottish people and eventually made famous by “Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.” It is a drinking song with such lines as “we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,” and “surely you’ll buy your pint cup.”

The question that we must ask and answer is, “How do we sing this song during the pandemic with historic rises in cases of the variants? Do we really want to sing this tune standing next to someone who has lost a loved one or been very ill with the disease? Do we want to listen to it as we watch New Year’s Eve celebrations when our lives have been touched by so many suffering from the disease and lack of money even for the essentials? Do we want the “good old times” of the past two years.? Will New Year’s Eve be like salt in the wound for so many who have so little but need so much here and across the world?”

Perhaps we would be well served to go back in time to the original meaning of the phrase, “auld lang syne” and the context in which it was sung to bring in the New Year. We need to know the biblical response in a similar time and now.

New Year’s celebrations in Scotland, known as Hogmanay, became more important than Christmas during the Scottish Reformation when Puritans and Presbyterians looked down on the extravagant Christmas celebrations of others as unnecessary and excessive. The Scots wanted to focus on the Christ event. Today we would say that they wanted to put Christ back in Christmas. I know that Trump and others of his allies think they invented that phrase. Someone needs to tell him and others that He never left. But the perception of excessive celebrations created the message given by the puritans to their fellow Scotts so all celebrations shifted to New Year’s Eve or Hogmanay as it was known then.

The biblical record has a lot to say about what we have been living through and, more important, how to recognize the New Year and be sensitive to the emotions of those around us.

In many ways, we have been held captive in the most real sense although I have never heard captivity as a word to describe the pandemic. I think it is the most appropriate description.

The Israelites were taken captive by the Babylonians between 586 and 536 B.C. They were taken from their land to a strange place which was Babylon. They were strangers in a strange land. This describes our lives during the pandemic from the first day that we heard about the virus to this present hour. The Israelites were in captivity for 50 years. There arose a question among them which we believe is the source of Psalm 137:4. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” I believe that question is still the most relevant religious question before us in our own strange virus laden land. We need to think about this question, and meditate on it even as the countdown begins. I believe there is an answer that we need to keep in mind during the festivities to be sensitive to all that have experienced the Pandemic and loss. It is the wisdom found in the Letter of James 5:13: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let them (and us) pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let them (and us) sing praise.” I think that this wisdom makes sacred that powerful line in the song, “Auld Lang Syne,” “And here’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand of thine!” That’s what friends and family can do, support with prayer or praise here in our nation and in our global village around the world remembering that a form of prayer is action to help others.

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