Of course, people still had a knees-up, got drunk and did naughty things with other people's spouses. But it was nothing like the old days, when the promise of 365 brand new days and four fresh seasons had the masses shaking with excitement.
The problem with this new year, and the three to follow, is that everybody is saving themselves. The accepted wisdom is "Don't shoot your bolt, hold out for the Big One".
That rasping noise you can hear in the background is the sound of Europe snoring. The whole continent is taking a disco nap, in order to be fresh for the Mother of all New Year's Eve Parties. I'm talking about 31 December 1999, of course.
Meanwhile, poor old 1996 has been sold short. Maybe all it needs is a slogan, something to bring us round as we sleepwalk through the last half of the last decade of the last century of the millennium. You know the sort of thing: " '96 - Even Sexier Than '69". Or " '96 - It's The Same Upside Down". Even the sloppiest slogan can work wonders as long as it has a triumphalist tone. For example, "Glasgow - It's Miles Better".
Miles better than what? Miles better than walking all the way to Inverness?
No matter: with this inane slogan and the not altogether convincing mantle of European City of Culture, Glasgow managed to get its draconian drinking laws relaxed and has been miles better for it ever since.
The ability of slogans and other worthless epithets to work miracles on public perception has not been lost on those keen-eyed bureaucrats in the European Union, who naturally have a vested interest in making us excited about otherwise uninspiring moments in history - the bigger the year, the bigger the budget, n'est-ce pas?
This is why, despite public apathy, EU officials say there is much to celebrate this year. For instance, 1996 has been declared the European Year of Lifelong Learning, during which special efforts will be made to raise public awareness of the benefits of higher education among adults. John Major is said to be taking a keen interest in this project.
Then there is wonderful Copenhagen, which from today becomes the European City of Culture, the crown being passed on from that other bustling metropolis, Luxembourg. On a national level, Italy takes over the presidency of the European Council from Spain, meaning that things which previously couldn't be done until tomorrow will now be done this afternoon, but only if you bribe the appropriate official.
More exciting Euro-news: from today the EU Units of Measurement Directive comes into force for food sold loose, including fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. Beer and cider, as well as road signs, will continue to employ imperial measurements.
Other tremendous changes await us on the home front. Coaches are henceforth banned from using the fast lane on motorways, and their maximum speed is restricted to 65 mph - a whole 5mph less than the national limit. Not only that but, following accident research, a review of this new law will take place in two years, which gives us yet another tantalising reason (as if we needed one) to look forward to 1998.
As of today, the one-year visitor's passport becomes invalid. From this historic moment onwards, a full 10-year passport will be needed for foreign travel. Given the ever-lengthening queues for charter flights at Gatwick airport, it may be necessary to increase this to 20 years by June.
Also today, Michael Heseltine takes over the Buying Services Agency, which procures goods for universities and the NHS, and the Security Facilities Agency, which provides security for the Government, including guarding the Crown Jewels. Presumably, both will shortly be privatised.
This may seem like small potatoes compared with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid, but 1996 still has the potential for intrigue and excitement. England will host football's European Championships this summer, and already there is a palpable sense that history might repeat itself. Not that we have a chance of winning, of course, but perhaps the trophy might be stolen, as the World Cup was 30 years ago, and subsequently recovered by the reincarnation of Pickles the dog. With a man called Tarzan looking after the Crown Jewels, anything could happen.
Yes, '96 could be a year to remember, if we weren't so eager to forget it already. All that's needed, I'm convinced, is a slick slogan to capture the imagination. Now let's see, what rhymes with six? Chicks, kicks, licks, frozen Margarita mix ... there seems to be a pattern emerging. I think the best thing would be for myself and a few bright young researchers to apply for an EU grant and book into a Swiss ski chalet for a fondue-fuelled brainstorming session. We could report back in mid-January. No point in rushing into anything. After all, this annual sloganeering thing is a whole new box of tricks.Reuse content