New Year’s Eve has just never been high on my list of holidays. It isn’t a proper holiday like July 4th or Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, on which even though we may be celebrating based on an artificially contrived date (or a Pagan ritual) we are actually commemorating something. All we are recognizing on New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s day, for that matter, is the fact that humans created a calendar with an arbitrary number of days, after making up the whole “day” thing to begin with, and that after 365 or 366 of those artificial units of measure have passed, we start counting again. No signing, no dying, no rising, and no Pilgrims and Indians. It seems to me that celebrating New Year’s Eve is very much like celebrating crossing the state line into Indiana, or the fact that the Ramen noodles cook perfectly after 3 minutes. Why not have big parties celebrating the Winter Solstice, when something interesting and dramatic is actually happening in the physical world?
I would not object to the whole idea of New Year’s Eve were it not for the heavy expectations piled on top of this kind of random and contrived event. As a child, I was safe and happy on December 31st because my parents either hosted or attended some kind of party, and my brother and I enjoyed a festive evening with our Grammy Graham, eating contraband snacks, drinking sparkling cider and trying to stay up until the ball dropped. As a grown up and married person I am, again, in the safe harbor that comes with having a predictable date for the evening, and (best of all) knowing that we don’t have to do anything at all if we don’t want to; we can watch a “Cops” marathon, rent movies, order hot wings, or otherwise disport ourselves in an old and married manner. Sometimes, like tonight, we adjourn to the home of equally old and married people to drink a little, watch a talent show improvised by our children, and hug dear old friends at midnight after a conjugal kiss. All good.
In the valley between the rolling green peaks of childhood and my current situation lay the New Year’s Eve Danger Years, when I began to have panic attacks at the mere mention of the occasion some time around Thanksgiving. Would I have a date? Would I have somewhere to go? If I had a date, would it be good? What would I wear? What if I didn’t get asked to do anything? There was no sticking of heads in sand, either; every other radio ad was for a “bangin’ New Year’s Eve” party at some bar or another, and the paper had a full page of advertisements to lure people with cash and a passion for cheap champagne and rowdy crowds. Like Valentine’s Day (which I should hate just as much, but do not because I like hearts and pink stuff), New Year’s Eve became a giant, perpetual reminder that one should be doing something much better than she would be doing on any other December night, and that everyone else would be lounging lasciviously at the Hottest Party Ever with a drink in one hand and a bulging bicep in the other.
Here is a random sampling of what happened instead:
1978: A sophomore in high school, invited to spend the evening at the home of Guy I Really Liked. We made Chicken Marsala and watched TV. I had spent ages getting ready, imagining what might happen, hoping that he’d kiss me at midnight. He did not. Crushing disappointment entirely eclipsed pretty amusing evening.
1982: Invited to go out to a party at a bar by current but ambivalent boyfriend. Bought dress, tiny handbag and monstrous stilettos. I looked good, he looked good. Smoky, noisy, icky party with people throwing up in the bathrooms. Too much drinking. Back to my (parents’) house where I did get kissed, after which he threw up and passed out.
1985: House sitting at house that seemed perfect for sizzling rendezvous with current boyfriend. Cooked up a storm, bought champagne, dressed seductively. I made stuffed mushroom caps, for God’s sakes. Boyfriend (who had told me he loved stuffed mushroom caps) arrived un-hungry because he had “eaten at work.” Hated champagne. Started watching college football games, which he did until they were all over, during which time I worked myself up to the giant fight that occupied our time from 11:00 into the wee hours of the morning.
1987, 1988, 1999: Studying for law school exams which started bright and early the first week day after New Year’s Day. Studying with guy from New Year’s Eve 1982, still ambivalent, still no kiss at midnight.
1990, 1991: Alone in my apartment in Boston? Talking to the stranger who called me by mistake, really liked my voice and kept calling back to see if I’d have phone sex? So sad I buried it.
1992, 1993, 1994: Probably with my parents, or possibly taping the labels back into library books.
So you see. You see. It never worked out quite right, it was never all it was cracked up to be. I’m not all that bitter any more, just sort of sad that I wasted all that time and energy trying to make my life mesh with a reality that was…unreal.
The best New Year’s Eve ever? In 1996 I was pregnant, and on bed rest in the hospital where I had been since November 22. My husband (well, he wasn’t, yet, but only because my plans for a cute, empire-gowned wedding had been ruined by the fact that I was living in a bed with rails for the foreseeable future) brought takeout Chinese and we borrowed a video player from the Gray Ladies so we could watch movies. I was not allowed to get up and take a shower at that particular juncture, and I was wearing a nightgown. There was no perfume, no makeup, no heels, no glamour, no drinking, no party hats, no bands, just a couple waiting for a baby under rather stressful circumstances, having a great evening together ( interrupted occasionally by nurses with pills or blood pressure cuffs). Six days later, we were parents, and that, dear reader, is something to celebrate.
I will not wish for you magnums of champagne, high expectations or reams of resolutions. Instead, I hope that you observe the passing of a pretty ordinary winter’s night with peace and equanimity, enjoying the companionship of family or friends if there’s a celebration to be had, or a good meal and a good book if there isn’t. It’s just another night, really, a man-made benchmark that means nothing cosmic unless we choose to buy into the hype. Nothing is any different tomorrow unless we make it so, and that choice is, to me, vastly more interesting than what anyone does tonight.