Midwinter celebrations have been celebrated in England since ancient times. In Scotland one such celebration was known as Hogmanay; in England it was called New Year’s Eve. The Gregorian calendar marks December 31st as the last day of the year, but New Year’s Day was not always celebrated on January 1st. In Anglo-Saxon England the year started on the 25th of December. The day has also been celebrated on March 1st, March 25th, and September 24th, depending on which calendar was used. As early as the 17th century,when the legal year began on March 25th, Samuel Pepys would write about the passing of the old year on December 31st, eighty years before England moved the start of the year to January 1st.
Today we sing Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight. Commonly thought to be written in the 1700s by the poet Robert Burns, who was inspired by earlier renditions, the song was published after his death in 1796. According to the BBC article, Have Old Connections Been Forgot? BBC news story, the song is “now thought that the tune to match the words was part of the overture for Rosina, an obscure operetta written in 1783 by Englishman William Shield, who was born in Swalwell, Gateshead in 1748.” The words Auld Lang Syne literally mean “old long ago,” or “the good old days.”