It is almost time once again to break out the Trader Joe’s bubbly and belt out an off-key chorus or two of what must be the world’s most widely-sung ode to friends past and present, Auld Lang Syne. Usually, in the West at least, the song is trotted out for a very brief period between say, 11:57 and midnight of each December 31st, after which the quaint mimeographed sheet music is once again placed into the piano bench, not to be removed for another 365 days. Would that this were the case in Japan.
For here in the Land of the Rising Sun, you see, Auld Lang Syne has another life entirely, as Hotaru no Hikari (The Light of a Firefly), which tells the story of a poor but devoted student, who must pursue his nightly studies with only the glow of a firefly to illuminate his textbooks (are we gagging yet?). It is routinely played at school graduation ceremonies, and it signals the end of each school day. If you live near a school, as I do, you get to hear Auld Lang Syne every afternoon, played over a loudspeaker of a similar quality to that of the drive-up window of your neighborhood Dairy Queen. Worse still, it lodges in your brain like the Macarena, or the theme music from It’s a Small World, and only copious quantities of alcohol can drive it out.
But wait, that isn’t all! Every restaurant or bar issuing a last call for drinks, every department store seeking to usher out the final stragglers of the buying public, every office building sending its employees home for the day—you got it, another couple of choruses of Hotaru no Hikari, aka Auld Lang Syne.
I thought one of the side benefits of going to Thailand early this year would be that I would have a blessed couple of months without hearing ALS, but no-o-o. In Olde Siam, the tune is played at the end of every sports event, as well as its traditional New Year’s application. Naturally, there are Thai words to it as well, for which I was thankful, because Thai is such a difficult language that it would be impossible for the words to imprint on my defenseless mind, and even if they did, they look like this: สามัคคีชุมนุม. In other parts of Asia, notably Korea and the Maldives, the tune served as the national anthem, although both have since replaced it, presumably because as soon as the first strains were heard, everyone got up to leave.
For my part, the Auld Lang Syne that will always resonate with me is that of Garrison Keillor, who altered the words just a smidge to reflect the modern sensibility in a most poignant and heartfelt manner:
I think of all the great high hearts
I had when I was young…
And now who are these sad old farts
I find myself among?
And with that, folks, Happy New Year!