The big question, as you wake up and move slowly into the New Year, is why. Why did you have to have to go to that party last night? Why did you have to battle traffic at midnight? And why do you have to watch football games today?

Because some things never change.

"Dominating the social scene, 900 bejeweled women and top-hatted men trooped into Mrs. Edward Beale McLean's estate, Friendship, last night to welcome 1938 amidst scenes of imperial splendor," was front-page news in the Jan. 1 edition of The Washington Post 50 years ago, when the paper sold for 3 cents. "Two orchestras played the old year out and serenaded the coming of the new.

"Rejoicing crowds shoved along the sidewalks and overflowed into the roadway as good-natured officers of the law attempted to solve the snarl of traffic."

For the rest of the year, the world would wonder about the increasing power of Germany and Italy in a Europe wary of war. France cut off armament aid within the week to Yugoslavia and Romania as those two nations moved closer in alliance with the Nazis. At home, Washington faced other problems. Silver prices spiraled, then were cut. Eleven million Americans were out of work. The president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, planned a national address that would emphasize tax relief and, yes, a balanced budget.

But the big local story then, unlike local news stories this week, was that fewer people were dying in the District. There was no talk of murder or drugs. Instead, doctors offered suggestions for further reductions of the death rate. Their advice: better prenatal care, diphtheria vaccinations, prompt attention to all manifestations of illness and, not to be overlooked, sane living.

A new Fred Astaire movie, "Damsel in Distress," was opening at the Keith Theater and Edward G. Robinson's "The Last Gangster" could be seen at the Loew's Capitol for 40 cents a ticket. Men could buy affordable suits, "ones that will lead the style parade" at Raleigh Haberdasher, and women were advised by fashion writers to look for black lace, net evening gowns with low decolletage.

On New Year's, a balmy day, families listened to the radio for sports reports and could get a full report by reading Shirley Povich's column.

The Rose Bowl game story rivaled the jobless rate as news on the front page and began with listings of bowl games: California 13, Alabama 0. Santa Clara 6, LSU 0; Auburn 6, Michigan State 0.

And then came the story about the warlike defeat of the "gallant Red regiment from Dixie," watched by 90,000 fans, the largest Rose Bowl crowd in history.

Beyond the sporting life, readers could look for help from the Dear Abby of the day, Mary Haworth, a hand-holder who packed a punch.

"Dear Mary Haworth: I am 23 and Bill is 21 . . . . We have been going steady for more than four months and are very fond of each other. Ever since he graduated from high school, he has held a fine, promising position with the government . . . . I have been to college and work part time . . . . What difference would our age make later, if we should marry? Do you think I'd regret marriage with him? There is still time but I must decide soon. Sincerely, F.G.B."

"Dear F.G.B.: There is a strong minority opinion among capable psychologists that marriage is advantaged, rather than handicapped, by the fact of a young wife's being a year or two older than her husband. . . . In your particular case, it is very likely that the young man is matured rather beyond his chronological age. This is suggested by him having held 'a fine promising job with the government.' Of the two, I suspect you are the less-socially aggressive and, fundamentally, the less-socially competent, in spite of your superficial advantage of parentally provided education and travel."

Then again, some things do change.