for old times’ sake

It was Winter Break 1987, and I was in my pjs stringing (and eating!) popcorn with my big sister during Winter Break while It’s A Wonderful Life aired on TV during the local holiday movie marathon. This was my first memory of hearing the song Auld Lang Syne during the final scene of Frank Capra’s 1946 family drama. From then on, I recognized the song when the ball dropped in Times Square while watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve on TV with my cousins in Ann Arbor, MI.

The melody that has become synonymous with New Year’s Eve celebrations in North America was not widely known until December 31, 1929, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. That was the year that Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians first played Auld Lange Syne at the turn of the new year in a series of popular radio broadcasts. The broadcasts then later turned into television productions and continued for more than 30 years. 

Just as the song was not always popular, neither was the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. It received mixed reviews when it was released in 1946, and it did not even make it to the theater in my hometown until May the following year. The film’s comeback came in 1974 when it was viewed on television sets in households everywhere, because the copyright holder overlooked the film’s renewal expiration. This oversight meant it was free for TV stations to air the movie as often as they wished. And they did! In 1993 NBC bought the rights and now traditionally broadcasts it on Christmas Eve night in the United States. 

This year marked the 75th anniversary of the movie’s premiere at the Globe Theatre in New York. Today the movie is described as a “classic about a man (James Stewart) who is shown the value of his life by angel Clarence.” These are the intangible gifts that cannot be bought or sold, and the past few years have reminded us once again that triumphs are often hard fought, just as George Bailey was reminded by a look at the world if he had never been born. The emotion in his eyes alone at the end of the film show us how invaluable these moments are to him.

When I first heard George Bailey and his littlest daughter Zuzu singing at the end of the movie, I thought the words were, “For Old Lang’s Sign, my Dear.” I figured that “Old Lang” must have been someone from Bedford Falls who had a new house built at Bailey Park, and they were headed over to Martini’s for a party! I did not know that “Auld Lange Syne” was Scottish verse that roughly translates to “Old Times’ Sake.” Though even at my young age, I did understand that together, the community was celebrating a triumph of the greater good. I hope we will do that in 2022.

Auld Lang Syne. Thomas G. Doyle, Bookseller, Stationer, Song & Hymn publisher, No. 297 Gay Street, Baltimore, Md. Monographic. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/amss.as100470/>.

For more information and further enjoyment on this topic, click on these free resources:

The Greatest Gift Audiobook by Philip Van Doren Stern – hoopla (hoopladigital.com)

Auld Lang Syne Song History & Lyrics – Britannica

The Seneca Falls It’s A Wonderful Life Museum

OSCARS.org: Wonderful Life Collection Highlights

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