Friday, December 31, 2010

Another 'Auld Lang Syne'?

Reflections on a ‘Happy’ New Year
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 31 Dec 2010

This has been an annual ritual each year. The same songs are played at the end of every 52 weeks. It is the same kind of sentiment at the end of 365 days. This once a year greeting of happiness and cheer does two things:

1) Wishing everyone a ‘Happy New Year;’
2) Saying Goodbye to a somewhat somber, sad or old, old year.

As I see party revelers sing away their blues, it does appear the HNY greeting is the annual ritual of exorcising all lingering smell of unhappiness. Perhaps this is why people all over join in merrily to celebrate the Auld Lang Syne. What is puzzling is that people sing this traditional Scottish poem without really knowing what it means. Written by Robert Burns in the late 18th Century, it has been used at many funerals, farewell events as well as after the countdown to the start of every New Year.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

(Robert Burns, 1759-1796)

1) What Does Auld Lang Syne Mean?

Not many people know what this song actually mean. Sang at the stroke of midnight to the start of every new year especially in places where people speak English, people join in the happy throng with a beer or a drink in hand, and a merry band. Literally, it means ‘times gone by.’ I suppose people ready to forget the past at that cheery moment, also finds it convenient to forget any meaning behind this famous Scottish song. It seems that people feel happier when the old has given in to the new, the sad to the happy, and the bad news of yesterday for the good news of tomorrow.

2) Happy = ‘Forgetting the Past’ + ‘Hoping in the Future?’

I find it strange that the formula for Day 1 of every year is frequently the same. Happiness seems to be a formula of rolling 2 things into one: ‘Forgetting the Old year’ + ‘Welcoming the New Year’ = Happiness

My problem lies in why it is the same each year. About 365 days ago, we just sang that same song! What happened?

Isn’t January 1st last year filled with much hope and happiness? What happened at 31st December the same year? Change the year to 2011, and the same formula applies? In that case, what is the point of wishing one another HNY when I know that when one does the countdown on 31st December 2011, we will be saying ‘good riddance’ to a year that is supposed to be ‘happy’ in the first place? This cyclical behaviour is not often understood. In our busy society, we simply want to get things done quickly, move to the next point and carry one running to an unknown destination.

I remember hearing from many of my university friends that once we start working, whatever we have learned in University are totally un-applicable. The ‘process of learning,’ not the product is the meaning behind University education. Interestingly, this ‘process’ has become society’s process in everything. We rush to get our projects completed. We rush to eat our daily meals. We rush to make appointments. We rush to get things done. After what is done, as we sit back to think, sometimes we sense that things do not slow down. Instead, more is required of us. Our 'process' has become our life, making us less able to make sense of the past, the present and the future. Our running and our 'processing' has become our life. Maybe the 'Auld Lang Syne' should be aimed at such meaningless running about purposelessly. Instead, we need to embrace a more purposeful living.

Running and rushing to get things done well is like working on one project to a successful conclusion. The boss beams and cheekily gives us a new challenge: "Next time, you shall do 2 such projects in HALF the time!"

The mad cycle is unstoppable. What we have done we need to do more. This is why running in a rat-race is a chronic race of madness and meaninglessness. The sad thing is that when we say ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘good riddance’ to an old year of mad rush, we are preparing to dive into another year of pretty much the same thing.

3) True Happiness = Beam of Purpose

What belies true happiness? I think it is not in the Auld Lang Syne. Forgetting the past is simply non-productive. Like it or not, not everything in the past is bad. There are also happy moments. They are tough as well as pleasing moments. All of them are uniquely engraved into the hearts and minds of every one of us. Thus, singing away the blues is not the way to happiness. Perhaps, it is only a short pause to remind ourselves again that there is hope in both the past and the present. The past can be redeemed. The future can be esteemed. The present can become a beam of energy and purposefulness.

4) Redeeming the Past

While many seeks to forget the heartaches and worries of the old year, for me, living the Auld-Lang-Syne is like sweeping the old ‘bad news’ under our daily carpet. The time will come where we will do some housekeeping, and find the same old dust. Some of the pesky dirt may even tarnish our floor of hope. The past cannot be easily forgotten. The past remains a part of our identity. Do not eject it. Do not delete it. Do not forget it.

Instead, when we wish one another HNY, take care not to be too careless about throwing away the baby with the bathwater. Should anyone condemn 2010 just because of some bad news? What has happened has happened. We cannot do anything about it, except to learn from it. As long as we keep learning, it purposes our living.

5) Esteeming the Future

This is the essence of hope, that the future is more promising than the past. This is the meaning of the gospel. We do not live for yesterday nor tomorrow. We live for Christ. For Christians, we live each day praying to God:

“Thy Kingdom come; Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God has been faithful in the past. He desires to walk with us in the present. He promises a great new heaven and new earth in the future. God has redeemed our past through Jesus. Our sins have been redeemed through the Son. God has given us the Holy Spirit as a guide for each day. He promises us new life not simply each new year, but every new day. One of my favourite songs is “The Steadfast Love of the LORD” which is derived from Lamentations 3.

"Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lam 3:22-23)

As followers of Jesus, we do not join the world in a senseless forgetting of the past. Neither do we depend on nice feelings in order to maintain hope for the future. Our hope is in redeeming the past, esteeming the future, and to boldly live out the present in the Person of Christ. This is the reason for each season. We do not need to be killjoys even as people sing the Auld Lang Syne. My point is, we are already more than conquerors in this journey of life. Join the happy throng. Enjoy the festive moment. Celebrate the countdown with friends. Deep inside, let us be authentic about our faith, that true happiness is never about forgetting the past. Neither is it about faith in an unknown future. It is essentially a simple faith in Jesus, who has conquered yesterday, today and every tomorrow. Let our New Year be a Faithful New Year. Let me close with a few thoughts on faith.

"Faith isn't the ability to believe long and far into the misty future.
It's simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step." (Joni Eareckson Tada)

New Year Thought: The opposite of fear is faith. Childlike faith is not avoiding our fears. It is about centering our eyes on the Heavenly Father.


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