There are six hours left in this year. A cuckoo clock ticks away the seconds as my husband makes hot chocolate. Sitting in companionable silence on a couch with two friends, I write while they read. Dusk and snow fall silently outside; it obscures the frozen lake, the pussy willows that look like corn dogs, and the deer tracks we scuffed past during our post lunch walk through the neighbor’s woods.
Balancing on the cusp of a new year, I couldn’t be more content. The couple hosting us have a pan of baked ziti ready to pop in the oven in an hour. Afterward there might be games. Certainly there’ll be talking, laughter, wine, hor d’ oeuvres, dessert.
In our cozy cocoon tonight the hustle and sparkle of a city celebration among strangers couldn’t possibly feel further away. Ditto the angst we’re expected to be harboring over this holiday. In saying that I realize my bias; I’ve always assumed the negative hype around New Year’s Eve is manufactured. After all, as a journalist acquaintance once pointed out, the media much prefer ‘dirt and quirk’ to less lucrative good news stories.
Until today, I’ve pretty much ignored the maligning of NYE. What’s to hate about a universal night of celebration? But having this blog now prompted a new curiosity in me: what, in fact—besides heavy traffic and inflated prices—is there to hate? How wide spread is the reported anxiety around the night? The loathing and disappointment? Is it real? This morning in an opinion piece on NBC news, Meredith Clark called the evening torture and suggested we all secretly know NYE is the worst holiday. Really? Are my husband, friends, and I an anomaly? Maybe we are.
The Telegraph in the UK reports the ‘napping New Year’ is a growing trend in the nation, with fewer Brits going out each year and more going to bed. This in itself doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. At all! The article, however, also claims 10 million Britons call NYE the “most depressing” night of the year. That’s sad to hear.
So why have I always loved it—from late in high school right up to today? Loving it has meant:
- Looking forward to special moments, invitations, companions, events, and scenarios—which didn’t necessarily eventuate.
- Having special moments I’d never trade: e.g. a night in my 20s when my then-boyfriend and I arrived at (read: burst through the door of) a classy Chicago nightclub, both of us laughing, soaked through from a heavy, wet snow, one of my shoes lost in a puddle with the heel wedged in a grate. We faced dozens of distinctly unwelcoming stares from the guests already there who looked perfect. Beautiful. Dry. With two shoes.
- Making the most of bad situations: a blizzard in my late teens that led to a card party at my parents’ house for the small town locals who could arrive on foot or snowmobile; the year Bob and I missed out on affordable comedy club tix nearby, so with snow forecast, walked 20 minutes to a nice bar, then traipsed to a surprisingly empty Italian restaurant with a good band, and strolled home holding hands just past midnight.
- Getting creative and doing what really appealed—with the right people. Like tonight. And like the one (or two?) times I welcomed the new year with a close friend at a candlelit service in a liberal and inclusive church in New Zealand, or welcomed a new century by joining two friends in dragging our sleeping bags to the beach in Gisborne, New Zealand to watch the first sunrise light the horizon.
Years ago, I loved the idea of, and aspired to, the perfect (read: stereotypical, Hollywood-style) evening of sparkling laughter accompanied by sparkling wine and mirror balls. I’m not knocking parties like this (nor can I afford them); the year I came closest to that dream, however—with all the trappings involved—I discovered a key component was wrong: the person beside me.
Over the years, my love for the night has mellowed, become less manic and party-driven, more about the person (or people) I’m with.
NYE can’t let me down the way it once might have done. And that’s all about expectations.
Turns out expectations make or break the night. I went looking for any US stats of the sort reported in the UK, wondering if research backed up Meredith Clark’s suggestion that we actually hate this holiday. What I found seems to point to issues around:
- expectations for the night: set too high or mismatched to our personalities.
- expectations for the past year: not met.
On the first point, I was reminded that the different way our brains are wired—e.g. if we tend toward introversion or extroversion—will steer us away or towards that media-hyped, much televised Hollywood-style of celebrating.
How could anyone who dreads the mere thought of crowds or pounding dance music anticipate, much less enjoy, an entire evening drowning in both? The introvert’s ideal way of honoring the last calendar flip of the year might be to snuggle on a couch with a cat and a book … maybe catching the Times Square Ball drop at midnight.
The less easily addressed issue, of course, comes down to unmet expectations, whether of ourselves, others, or the past year. With NYE being about looking back as much as looking ahead, the night will be doubly painful for those with few wins to cherish or anticipate. Especially when their reflections are accompanied with the soul-destroying assumption everyone else is celebrating. Everyone else has ‘made it.’
But tonight there are people living under bridges and under dictators. There are children living in domestic violence shelters and in war zones. There are animals shivering in drainpipes and in fear. Reflecting on this adds perspective to … all of it. Tempering the idea of angst around staying in or going out. Tempering my own contentment—and severely ramping up my gratitude—around being safe and warm with loved ones.
Tonight marks the end of 2017. While we may have freighted it with importance, in the end, its the same string of hours between any two days. In the morning we’ll be a few hours older. If tonight we’re shown a lesson, suffer a disappointment, regret a decision, or create beautiful memories, we’ll have new material to learn from.
This fable is one of my favorites. Its author is unknown as far as I can tell. If you’ve never heard it before, I hope you enjoy it. And that—however you choose to spend it—you enjoy tonight and the year ahead.