The story takes place between 11 pm and 12 o'clock midnight on New Years Eve. The Old Year- a tired, care-worn woman- decides to spend her last few minutes upon the earth resting and sitting on the steps of Salem's City Hall. Her description is one of infinite exhaustion and grief: she looks "weary of body, and sad of heart," and her clothes are in very bad condition, "having been exposed to much foul weather and rough usage." She is weighed down by a large and heavy box which she carries along with her, as well as a notebook of sorts.
As she sits on the steps waiting for midnight, a pretty young woman comes lightly traipsing along the street. The contrast with the Old Year could not be more noticeable; there is a "smiling cheerfulness" about her face, her light beribboned clothes are frivolous rather than practical, and she has "so much promise and such an indescribable hopefulness in her aspect, that hardly anybody could meet her without anticipating some very desirable thing." This is the New Year, and she cheerfully greets her sister and sits beside her on the steps.
Then, as the clock strikes twelve, the Old Year takes her leave, going to her yearned-for rest, and the New Year steps forth upon the earth with rather more caution and trepidation than before.