This song is about the solidarity movement going on in Poland in the early 1980's. The government had promised changes and reforms, which would take effect on Jan. 1 of the following year, but the promises were empty. Thus, Nothing changes on New Year's Day...
Isaac Lee icleeucdavis.edu (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)
First off, I believe that the comments about the Polish solidarity movement is incorrect. Although it is true that there was a solidarity movement in Poland, the song was written before then. In fact, U2 were surprised to find out that martial law was going to be lifted in Poland on New Year's Day, but this was after they'd finished recording the song. Wonderful coincidence, perhaps a sign of ESP in Bono, but that's not what the song is really about.
The song is actually a love song written about Bono's new (at that time) wife, Ali. It was among the songs written while Bono was on Honeymoon in the Carribean, along with Two Hearts Beat As One.
Crow crowglobalserve.net (contributed before the 20:th of February 1998)
I believe this song to be about a couple separated by war and/or revolution. It isn't intended to be a song expressing undying devotion to someone, but rather as a statement about how war and revolution can drive people apart and devastate families. This fits in with the theme of many of the other songs on the album as well as with the final verse (Gold is the reason for the wars we wage).
Eric ejj1geneseo.edu ( 9:th of February 2000)
"Did you guys ride the horses in the `New Year's Day' video?" - Laetitia Robert, France BONO: Yes, we did, and Anton Corbijn fell down a snowy ravine and managed not to get his camera wet. Hot Press (16th July 2002)
From Salvation in the Blues, compiled by Chris Taguchi christaguchi.ca (3rd of April 2007)
I always thought the lyrics were the words of a German soldier surrounded at Stalingrad in WW II. The video clips hint at that, with shots of Soviet soldiers/tanks etc. The words "I will be with you again" despite the impossibility of a breakout, the words "newspapers say it's true, that we can break through" so "we can be one" - the true impossibilty of breakout was hidden by propaganda, etc. The encirclement happened in Nov. 1942 and ended in Feb. 43.
Martin jtitchenechoes.net ( 5th of April 2009)
I thought that 'though torn in two, we can be one' was about Ireland and the division between it...
Katie dream.artistyahoo.com ( 8th of July 2010)