As the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, the song "Auld Lang Syne" (or "Old Long Since" or "time past"), by Robert Burns, written in 1788, could be heard in most English speaking world. Fireworks would usher in the New Year's Day as the old year departed. Back in 1924, one Australian commentator made the observation, "For in all ages, in all civilized countries, among all people who have achieved the art of measuring time, the New Year has been a landmark, and its advent a noteworthy occasion. Yet it is difficult to understand why we still invest January 1 with such distinction.
"It is associated with no memorable event. Unlike Christmas, the Passover, Ramadan, and many other festivals, it has no religious significance, but is purely secular in character. And the date of our New Year is itself a somewhat arbitrary one. It simply happens to come after the end of the 12th month. True, 12 months is the period which the rather mediocre planet called by its inhabitants the World takes to revolve around the rather inferior star called the Sun. But the period is not constant, and, were the symmetry of the calendar the desideratum, New Year would fall more appropriately on mid-summer day or one of the equinoxes.
"Moreover, the date of 'New Year' is anything but uniform. Our year (using the Gregorian Calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582) begins on January 1, but originally the Roman year began in March (the Julian Calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BC), the month dedicated to the god of war. The Jewish New Year occurs in September, as does the Abyssinian. The Mohammedan New Year falls in July (back in 1924), and the Chinese late in January or early in February.
"For us to attach such special importance to January 1 is as illogical as was the grievance of the London mob who, when in 1752 the calendar was amended by reckoning September 3 as the 14th, besieged Parliament with angry cries of 'Give us back our 11 days!' They thought that precious hours of existence had been stolen from them, that their span of life had been shortened to that extent."
It was mentioned January 1 had been a holy day in the Christian church since 487AD. Professor of English, James Chandler told the 'Chicago Tribune' on New Year's Eve 1994, "He (Robert Burns) deliberately used very archaic slang in order to evoke the old days." Scholar Carol McGuirk remarked, "The first verse asks, rhetorically, 'Should we forget old times? Should we forget old times?' He liked to repeat himself so people would understand him better."
Reporter Eric Zorn concluded, "The words we usually sing – the first verse and the chorus, several times over – amount to this: 'Should we forget old times? For old time's sake, let's drink!'" Robert Burns told publisher George Thomson, "It is an old song of olden times, which has never been in print. I took it down from an old man's singing (back in 1687)."
June Smith worked at the British Embassy in Washington told the Associated Press on New Year's Eve 1977, "It's forgetting the past and looking toward the future, letting bygones be bygones." David Daiches wrote in his 1965 book, 'Robert Burns', "The song very cunningly combines a note of present conviviality with a poignant sense of the loss of earlier companionship brought by time and distance. Such a note is just right for New Year's Eve, when the mind hovers between retrospect and anticipation and we think equally of days gone forever and days to come."