Is it the age we live in, or is it just my age, that deflates expectations around New Year's Eve?
I remember New Year's parties where long tables groaned under roasts of beef and ham, platters of cheeses, fruits, and breads, armies of crystal goblets, twinkling beneath chandeliers or candelabras, cut glass decanters of potent brown spirits, jostling gangs of wine bottles, peeled tinsel, corks, and corkscrews littered about.
I once arrived late at a massive New Year's party on a snowy night, and through the arched living room window, saw people pressed to the walls, the brick trembling and the glass steamed from the raised voices inside. I pulled open the front door, and three people burst out backwards onto the slipper, snow dusted tile landing, scrambling and laughing in socks and shirtsleeves, drunkenly gripping the door frame to pull themselves back into the crowd. The countdown arrived, and everyone chanted down from 10, like a rocket launch, before erupting in a great roar, followed by quiet laughter and compulsory kissing, during which I shrunk back behind a large potted fern and floor length curtain to slobbery, unwelcome embraces. It was hilarious.
Parties raged all over, in private homes and public establishments. They went on all night. Brain cells were massacred. Reputations and relationships were ruined. There were breakfast parties for the sleepless and commiserating. Emergency wards filled up. Hangovers were epic.
November babies, some with suspiciously small feet and short attention spans, could trace their origins to this mad celebration. Think of Marie Antoinette, Nelly, and Pat Buchanan, and wonder how much better life might be had none of them been born under the sign of Scorpio. Seriously.
But, this year, during all the end of year conversations with close and casual acquaintances, I kept hearing that no celebrations were planned, or that planned celebrations were being avoided. People who had spent a fortune on Hallowe’en costumes, stopping just short of cosmetic surgery, were shunning what had been their parents’ party of the year. What’s up?
I think that we’re pressed more by obligations, real or felt, coming from employers, family, and friends, or fake friends on social media. The holiday isn’t holy any more. The window of leisure is nearly closed. Multiculturalism brings with it a mosaic of faiths that have ended the tyranny of Christians over the red circled days on our calendar. Stores are open, business carries on, the traffic stops and the birds are heard for shorter and shorter intervals in the sooty grind of big cities.
Also, we’re less desperate. Hungry, cold, meagre, and violent times, far less familiar to current generations in the west than to our parents and grandparents, make the prospect of a mindless, blow out, day of hope far more appealing back in the day than it seems now. The habit of celebrating new years was reinforced for them by a succession of economic calamities, world wars, epidemics and illnesses that few among us still remember.
Despite deprivations and disparities in our society, there has never been a better time to be alive than in 2017, if indeed you enjoy your life or have the prospect of improved fortunes. At no time in history have we been healthier and safer than in this time, as dismal as that admission may seem to the young and idealistic among us. It’s true.
So, what do we have to look forward to in the new year, that is worth celebrating en masse? What do we look forward to in 2018 that is markedly different than the prospects we left off with at midnight on December 31st?
You know who still need hope for the new year, in word and prayer, if not with champagne and spontaneous, now illicit, kissing? People who are having a really hard time right now, that’s who. People who are waiting for that dreamed of moment when fear or pain or helplessness or vulnerability is relieved and they can spend the next New Year's Eve in quiet gratitude, celebrated amongst intimates or not celebrated at all. These are the fervent New Year's well-wishers, who phone or text or Facebook hopes for themselves and others at the stroke of midnight, wherever they are in the world. I heard a couple of these chiming on the phone beside my bed at midnight this year.
For my part, I went out and bought a toboggan with the intention of taking the free streetcar across King and up Broadview Avenue to the murderous slopes of Riverdale Park, there to initiate my girlfriend in the art of sledding. Can you imagine having grown up in Canada and never having tobogganed?
The real temperature was -22C. The sky was clear, and the moon was full. A thermos of Irish coffee and a waterproof Bluetooth speaker was ready to pack. We would depart at 10:30pm, toboggan for an hour, crank up some triumphant symphony, warm our innards with a scalding, caffeinated whisky, freeze our lips together in a kiss, and go gratefully home.
Instead, she arrived home before dinner, sniffling with the onslaught of a cold, ate and curled up in front of the fire in flannel pyjamas. In about an hour, she was sound asleep in my arms. I watched Netflix till about 11pm, glancing over periodically at the toboggan propped up in the hallway. Although I’d imagined a different New Year's evening, I had no regrets. In that moment, there was no better possibility to celebrate.
To anyone who is unhappy, I wish them new happiness in 2018. For the rest, like myself, let’s do what we can to make this the world we want for ourselves, for each other, and for our children. Hopefully this quiet is a sign of the times, of a long interlude for those fortunate enough to live free of famine, epidemic, and war. Let’s inflate our bubble of contentment in 2018 so that there’s room for a lot more people inside – those near and dear to us, and strangers halfway around the world. Any measure of progress in that goal, and New Year’s Eve 2018 will take on a new meaning.