A toast to Naples’ good old days on New Year’s Eve

Lois Bolin Old Naples Historian

At the stroke of midnight on December 31, the world will once again be joined in a universal commonality when we all begin toasting “Auld Lang Syne,” the poem by Robert Burns that is widely regarded as “one of the world’s most popular songs that no one knows the lyrics to.”

The tune can stop (well, you never really stop a Scotsman) even the wildest of ye’ Highlanders for a moment of reflection to honor a time long, long gone. More idiomatically, “auld lang syne” translates to “old long ago” or “days gone by”— or simply, “the good old days.”

While most Scotsmen believe they invented most things —and according to the book, How Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Almost Everything in It, they did; but they did not create the tradition of singing (miming is more like it) “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight on December 31.

Bandleader Guy Lombardo gets the credit for that. Mr. Lombardo apparently first heard the song in his hometown of London, Ontario, sung by (no surprise here) Scottish immigrants. When Lombardo, his brothers and their Royal Canadian dance band settled in New York City, they caused a stir between the two top radio networks, CBS and NBC, who were vying to get Mr. Lombardo on their airwaves.

At midnight December 31, 1929, at The Roosevelt Hotel, Mr. Lombardo signed off on CBS, concluding the first half of his New Year’s Eve celebration, and then immediately signed on with NBC to broadcast the second half of the festivities.

The tradition of New Year’s Eve with Guy Lombardo and, of course, “Auld Lang Syne” became so entrenched in American culture that Life magazine once speculated that if Mr. Lombardo “failed to play‘ Auld Lang Syne,’ the American public would not believe that the new year had really arrived.”

The center of Naples’ New Year’s Eve celebrations has long been at one of the town’s most beloved treasures — the Naples Pier. This December 31, we can relive a moment in time, although there will probably be more people on the beach at 7:30 p.m. watching the city fireworks display than there were in all of Naples back when the tradition began.

Afterwards, walk up 12th Avenue South, the first Main Street in Naples, and show your family the Norris Gardens and Palm Cottage, continue past Beardy Banyan, the oldest banyan tree in the City of Naples at the corner of Gordon Drive.

As you cross Gordon Drive and enter the parking lot behind Tommy Bahama’s, stop and reflect that, “this is where it all began.”

Imagine a time in 1919, long before Guy Lombardo landed in New York, and envision Captain Stewart waving his lantern as the Bon Temps, Naples’ first transportation service, approaches the pier.

Picture guests walking down the street from the pier toward The Naples Hotel as the hotel staff puts their luggage on a cart that rolls on a set of rail tracks to the hotel, with perhaps a child or two on top getting the ride of their lives.

Imagine the Captain, who is also the town postmaster, stopping at the post office at the foot of the pier to drop off the mail before walking over to bring his employer, Walter Haldeman, the founder of Naples, the latest news.

When the clock strikes midnight, you will now be prepared to sing one of the world’s most popular songs. When you raise your glass to toast out with the old and in with the new; remember to toast the traditions, the culture, the stories and the good old day of life in Naples – all 132 years of it.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne!

And there’s a hand my trusty fiere, And gie’s a hand o thine, And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught, For auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne!

Remember these words and sing them loudly – loud enough to stop a Scotsman in his tracks.

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