“Auld Lang Syne” and Four Generations of My Family

Every year, as the hour grows late on Christmas night, my father’s eyes become misty. He sits at the dining table after our holiday feast and stares off in the direction of the CD player, holding the remote in his hand. He wears a light-blue cashmere V-neck sweater over a neat button-down shirt and brown corduroy pants, classic “gifts for Dad” from previous Christmastimes. The 1963 album “Christmas with the Platters” plays, and a dreamy version of “Auld Lang Syne” wafts through the living room. My father slowly takes off his glasses and dabs his eyes. The phrase “Auld Lang Syne” translates to “times gone by,” and, while Americans expect to hear this song every New Year’s, few know what the Scottish lyrics actually mean. So most New Year’s Eve revellers just mumble or hum along. But they get the gist of the main question of the song: Should old friends be forgotten? And the answer, of course, is no, the past must be remembered. …

My father can’t go back to the Chicago of the nineteen-fifties. Try as I might, I can’t relive my childhood or young adulthood in Morristown. But we can follow the poignant instructions offered in “Auld Lang Syne”: to remember the past, the stories, the scenes, the settings, the friendships, and the family. Perhaps knowing that these memories live on in all of us makes the “times gone by” a little easier to bear.

By Allyson Hobbs, Stanford University

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