You hear it in almost any movie that deals with the holidays, whether its the beautiful scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when Bedford Falls shows up for George Bailey, or the New Year’s Eve party in When Harry Met Sally, where Harry is all of us and admits none of us really knows what the lyrics mean.
Auld Lang Syne literally translates to Old Long Since but is generally understood to mean Times Gone By. Oh, Scottish people- you know how to do melancholy really, really well. Melancholy and haggis. Bless. My absolute favorite version – and favorite use of it in a movie – is the one by Mairi Campbell in the Sex and the City movie. The song plays while Carries races across town in the snow to be with Miranda – to remind her she is not alone. I mentioned it to my sister last night on the phone and we agreed it’s the melancholiest.
I always really loved the idea of New Year’s Eve- the reality, notsomuch. I love the prospect of dancing and singing and wearing sparkly clothing. I love the sense of occasion. I like the idea of people. I love the notion of marking the passage of time and the future stretching out before us.
The way we celebrate it, though, strikes me as a little incongruous. On a night which seems as though it would lend itself to reflection and gratitude there is an enormous amount of pressure (and by pressure I mean, of course, Spanx) to get dressed up, go out amongst the people (seriously, though, why so many people?) and celebrate loudly.
The date of January 1 was picked once the change was made to the Julian and Gregorian calendars – and the month they chose to start the calendar was the one honoring Janus, the Roman God of beginnings and transitions. Janus possessed two faces to see the past and the future. Makes sense. We reflect on the previous year and plan for the next. So really… Happy Two-Faced Janus Day to all who celebrate.
We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.
We can tell you about the trail under our feet, but not where it’s going.
We can’t know how big it is. We can’t orient ourselves enough to know how far we are from the base or the summit. We can’t know what weather will surge in and out of the peaks. We can’t tell how big it is in comparison to the other things on the horizon, because on the mountain there is no horizon.
We have knowledge on the mountain- but not wisdom.
We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.
The Welsh have a word that feels like it was built for New Years Eve. Hiraeth. While there’s no exact translation, Collins Dictionary defines it as, “a nostalgic longing for a place which can never be revisited.” God bless the Welsh and the Scottish and the Irish. My bog people. Got a murky, liminal, grey, melancholy feeling? We probably have a word for it.
The only thing we know for sure about 2023 is that it is over. That the days contained in that calendar year cannot be revisited, no matter how much we might want to- either because they were beautiful or because we want to renegotiate them. With time and distance, the way we see much of it will likely change. Heartbreak will tilt ten degrees, and the light of a new day will refract off it and it will shine differently. We’ll discover some losses we mourned created room for new and beautiful things. We’ll come to understand some of the things we desperately wanted weren’t worth the energy we expended worrying and wishing for them.
The only thing we know for sure about 2024 is nothing. Not one single thing.
We have the day we’re in. This brand new day in this brand new year.
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
In my recovery community, there’s a saying that you can start your day over again at any time. We use it to combat black and white, all is lost thinking. It gives us the ability to reset in real time. There’s no reason we can’t do the same thing with years. The reality is, every morning you wake up to a new year.
It’s ALWAYS a new year. Every single morning we can start anew. We can reimagine the path forward, dream bigger and better dreams for our lives – and we can let things go. We can say goodbye to people, places, things, institutions, habits, and ways of being that no longer serve us.
Goodbyes used to be so hard for me, in no small part because anything lost to me had fingernail marks in it. I held onto things – people, places, jobs, relationships – so tightly, not realizing that I cannot lose anything that is mine. That means there is no risk in holding all of it in an open hand.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.
I let a lot of things go this past year. I’ll let even more go in the year to come. Some of it will be hard. Some sad. Some easy. Some joyful.
Change is beautiful and difficult and constant. Staying present for the day I’m in has been the greatest blessing and biggest challenge of sobriety. Last year is gone. The year ahead isn’t here yet. I don’t need to time travel. I only need to be where I am – and I am grateful for my ability to do that, even when it is really hard.
Happy New Year, sweet friends. You are not alone. Hold it all with an open hand. Everything, everything, everything is temporary.
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?