I don't know about you, but that melody and arrangement have always seemed way too sappy and schmaltzy for my taste. Did you know that there are at least two other melodies to which the song can be sung? (Both of which sound better to my ears than the previous one). The original words are in Scots dialect and were collected or composed, at least in part, by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) for a compilation of Scottish folk music called The Scots Musical Museum. Quoth Wikipedia:
Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man." Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns' later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same "old song".
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.
On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.
It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.
There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world.
Here is an alternate version of the song, with a different melody, performed by the Scottish folk group The Tannahill Weavers:
Here is yet another version of the song with another melody, as sung by the Scottish singer Madelaine Cave and illustrated by some lovely Scottish landscapes:
Most people sing this song without having the slightest idea what it is really about. It is in reality a conversation between old friends (or perhaps old lovers, since the expression, "My Jo," is a term of endearment similar to "my love" or "my darling") reflecting on how much they have been through together. Circumstances have been difficult, and they have been separated, but they survived, thanks to their shared affection, shared experiences, and shared memories. They'll survive whatever the future may hold thanks to that same bond of affection and (being Scots) the occasional good stiff drink! Loosely translated from Scots, the chorus says, "We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for old times sake." A good thought to remember as we bid farewell to 2012 and say hello to 2013, yes?
Whichever of the three versions you prefer, I wish you, my readers and friends, the very best for the remainder of this Christmas season and for the new year 2013. To use another Scots expression, "Lang may yer lum reek," (literally, "Long may your chimney smoke," i.e, Long life to you!)