The last time I went out on New Year’s Eve, all anyone could talk about was the Y2K bug. I guess that means it’s been a while. That’s because leaving the house on New Year’s is terrible and dangerous.
My childhood experience with New Year’s was staying up late to watch a TV broadcast of people shivering in public squares while waiting for a moment in time imbued with an impossible degree of social significance. So, like most people, I subscribed to the popular belief that New Year’s Eve was about being with the largest possible group of people. (Although the initial fascination may have been mostly about staying up late.) Since then, I’ve learned that the best place to be when the clock strikes midnight is home. Because while the computer virus of 1999 proved to be a phantom menace, there are real perils involved in heading out to a New Year’s party.
Socially, it’s a trial: people either get wrapped up in their too-high expectations for a new year or morosely revisit the disappointments of previous year. Listening to either kind of recitation is a bummer. And then there are the physical threats: the prevalence of drunk driving makes being on the roads very risky.
Drinking and driving is a concern any night. But it really is elevated to Threat Level Midnight proportions on December 31. There are people who, in order to facilitate their own and others’ drinking and driving, share information about where police RIDE stops are positioned all over Ontario. The attitude that personal liberty is more important than everyone else’s safety is too Purge-like for me to feel safe driving, walking, biking, taking public transit, or even poking my head out the window.
So my New Year’s Eve tradition is to get into the bath at 11:30 p.m., turn off my phone, maybe start a movie, and try my best to not look at the time or at what’s going on outside, until inevitably I start hearing chants and cheers and yahooery from outside. And then I know it’s a new year and I’ve safely avoided the dangers of other people. I’ve been fortunate to marry someone with the same attitude.
But I acknowledge that it is Scroogelike to insist that New Year’s Eve has no significance. Being obstinate or vocal about it only lends credibility to the belief that the night has meaning. Like birthdays, New Year’s means only what you wish it to mean. And if it is special, it’s worth sharing with people who matter to you. Hosting a dinner for friends is a good compromise — an intimate gathering of close friends will always beat chasing the empty thrill of a massive party.
Whether you’re marking a beginning or an end, if you do have people over, midnight will be the climax of the evening, regardless of what you’ve planned. At 11:59, someone will shout “Everybody blah blah blah!” Then they’ll point at their watch and demand that we concentrate all our feelings about the past and the future into one too-tight embrace of the present, like Superman crushing coal into a diamond.
Whatever happened that year, people have a feeling that its end is of consequence. So maybe a couple of minutes to midnight, say a little something. Plan a toast, but don’t stress about filling everyone’s glasses. It doesn’t have to be long. It shouldn’t be long. It doesn’t even have to be memorable. But have something to say. The numerical countdown is so abstract. Any words you bring to the moment will be doubled in value and meaning. Even something as simple as, “We’re all so fortunate. I hope that everyone had a great year and that next year will be even better.”
Say it quickly, and then let people start shouting the numbers. If you cut the music at 11:58 and speak for less than a minute, you’ve created the perfect set-up for the countdown — there’s no opportunity for anyone else to make an improvised, drunken speech.
The whole point is to fill the moment with each other, to avoid the emptiness of midnight, the sense of false importance. Because, really, what actually changes at the stroke of 12?
And don’t make New Year’s resolutions, 92 per cent of which fail. Vows to be better or do better are admirable. But if you’re going to make life changes, nothing’s stopping you from making them today.
If you are going to celebrate this moment with others, live in it. If New Year’s Eve is so special, use it to be in the present, not to dwell on the past or the future.
May we have a moment of your time?
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