Maybe people get so rowdy, reckless and just plain loud of New Year’s Eve because it’s a holiday that forces us to look back, as well as ahead — and for many people, looking back can be an awfully sobering experience. What better way to counter that than to surround oneself with lots of noise, lots of friends (or strangers) and lots of booze?
In 1941, meanwhile, men and women need very little excuse to get a little wild. Above all else, of course, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was finally, officially engaged in the world war that had begun 15 months before, when Germany invaded Poland. No one knew how long the war would last — but on December 31, no one was betting it would be over soon.
Here, three-quarters of a century later, LIFE.com remembers a wartime New Year’s Eve in a virtually unrecognizable New York City, when hearing or singing those stirring lyrics to “Auld Lange Syne” probably evoked more intense emotions than it does today.