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Morag Josephine Grant

Published On


Page Range

pp. 99-118

Print Length

19 pages

5. The Song of Union

Chapter of: Auld Lang Syne: A Song and its Culture(pp. 99–118)
The chapter explores one of the most important social contexts for the dissemination of the song—fraternal-type organisations—and also focuses on the roots of the tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne in a circle with arms crossed and hands joined. Because of the way fraternal-type organisations are structured, their use of ritual, and the social functions they perform, they can play a significant role in the transmission of songs and other social practices. Such organisations were enormously significant in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The chapter begins by discussing Freemasonry and the role of song in Masonic ritual. Burns was a Freemason, and after his death Masonic organisations played an important role in memorialising him. Moreover, Masonic ritual may be the origins for the practice of singing Auld Lang Syne with linked crossed arms, and possibly also for the singing of the song at parting. The chapter also explores the international network of Burns Clubs that began to be established in the early nineteenth century, the use of the song in the trades union movement, and the emerging tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne at commencement/graduation ceremonies in the USA. The chapter concludes by looking at some other instances of singing songs with arms crossed and hands joined, and the practical and symbolic significance of this act.