IF Christmas is the time we draw closer to our families, New Year is often an occasion where we celebrate in public.

Yesterday, millions of people were reflecting on last night’s celebrations, or possibly sleeping them off.

The idea of celebrating the new year is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) around 2000BC – but the new year for them fell around the time of the vernal equinox, in March.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions is thought to have originated around 4,000 years ago with the ancient Babylonians, who made pledges to earn the favour of their gods.

Early Christians also believed that the first day of the year should be spent reflecting on their mistakes and resolving to lead a better life.

In contrast to the modern tradition of drunken revelry, Christians took part in a watchnight service, where they reviewed the year and prepared for the new one by praying and making resolutions.

Scotland tends to be more certain than the rest of the UK about how to celebrate New Year. Its Hogmanay traditions include the practice of first-footing – where neighbours visit each other and bring a gift of coal for the fire, or shortbread. It is said to be lucky if the first person across the threshold in the new year is a tall, dark man.

Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, gave us the words to Auld Lang Syne, in 1796, but singing the song as the new year arrives is a surprisingly recent tradition.

American band leader Guy Lombardo is credited with popularising the song and turning it into the festive institution it is today. He first played it on New Year’s Eve at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, and continued to do so at the Astoria Hotel from the 1930s to the 1970s.

The song became a key part of parties, balls and impromptu public revelry all over the world.

Most areas have a public space that becomes the focus of attention as midnight approaches.

Thousands have flocked to Bournemouth seafront in the past, and so many have flocked to the centre of Swanage that it has raised concerns among the police several times.

These days, many people enjoy London’s firework displays along the Thames, either first-hand or on television.

Those fireworks are themselves a very recent tradition, dating from the biggest New Year’s knees-up of modern times – the arrival of the new millennium.