I hate New Year's Eve. Or rather, I hate what New Year's Eve has become.
Much is said about Christmas being turned into a mess of commercialism and thing- hoarding. But hot on its heels is New Year's Eve. Hollywood and everyone else has made a mini-industry of propagating the notion that Dec. 31 is a magical night full of expectation and promise. A night when anything can happen. A night when love blossoms unexpectedly, when your problems evaporate into the ether, when a ball in Times Square drops and your life changes in an instant.
In reality, I've found that it's a night when the weather is likely to be frigid and most people are chilled to the bone because fancy tuxes and sparkly dresses aren't insulated. By 9 p.m., the inexperienced drinkers are stumbling down the sidewalks and propping up the corners of bars and clubs. And 12:01 a.m. looks just like 11:59 p.m. did. It's build-up, build-up, build-up ... that was it?
The pressure to make New Year's Eve into The Most Memorable Night of the Year is oppressive. I imagine that in the Land of Holidays, New Year's Eve is the queen of the mean girls, dolled up in her tiara, heels and glitzy dress, her drunk hair this side of out-of-control and her flirtini spilling out its glass. I'm sure she and her boisterous boyfriend, the Fourth of July, and sorority sister Valentine's Day bully the nerd holidays, Thanksgiving and Arbor Day.
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Maybe it's a sign that I'm getting older — I'm 38 — and my tolerance for tomfoolery is waning. But I don't really think that's the case. I love parties, I love socializing, I love hanging out with friends and potential friends. When I was a kid, Dec. 31 had the obvious thrill of getting to stay up late, and as a teenager, I had some misplaced idea that we were being sophisticated or naughty by going to a field party with a bonfire and looking around to see who might have contraband booze.
In my adult life, though, I can't really remember ever liking New Year's Eve. I've always been game to try, though. More often than not, the results have been mixed. There was the year I got stranded at an unwelcoming, cliquish party with no ride home and watched 1996 become 1997 waiting for a non-existent cab. There was the year I spent the day burying my grandmother and understandably had no interest in partying that evening. There was the year a friend and I decided to make a big night of it in Louisville. We went to a nightclub party that was more fizzle than fete and closed the night trying to sleep in a hotel room that was freezing because the heater was on the fritz.
So, yeah, if you buy into the popular concept of what constitutes a good New Year's Eve, you're setting yourself up for a hangover or disappointment.
So much work, and for what?
Jenni Hannon, 33, a cosmetologist in Richmond, said her worst New Year's Eve was spent in Memphis. She'd had too much to drink and was sick, but the cab she called to get back to her hotel was driven by a woman who apparently also was drunk. Hannon said the cabbie was "driving on sidewalks, I'm pretty sure down the wrong way on one-way streets, screaming out the windows, whipping us all around. I was never so glad to get back to my hotel room. It was awful." How did she ring in the New Year? "Ordered pizza and fell asleep before the ball dropped," she said.
Obviously, Hannon said, she has mixed feelings about the holiday. She said she likes the opportunity to get dressed up, "but on the other hand, as women, it gives us an event to fret over terribly. Are my nails done? I need a new outfit, ... new handbag, new lip gloss, earrings. What am I going to do with my hair?" Despite the fun of getting spiffed up for a party, "when you're done getting ready, you're actually too tired to even go to the event. And it is never as fun as what you had built it up in your mind."
This year, Hannon said, she might have a gathering at her house. "I would be guessing there will be alcohol because no good story starts with, 'So I had this salad ... .'"
Social maven Donna Ison, 44, of Lexington, wrote via email, "Every year, despite my better judgment, I have bedecked myself in a sequined dress, topped my head with a feathered fascinator and ventured out to amateur night — so called because New Year's is the one time of year when people who normally sip chardonnay forget they have no tolerance and booze it up, thus turning into giggling, staggering, vomiting messes who destroy public bathrooms."
Ison, who until recently was the editor of Skirt! Magazine, partially published by the Herald-Leader, said her worst memory of the holiday was New Year's Eve 2006. "Though I had already self-tanned earlier that day, I didn't feel I was sufficiently bronzed, so I had another go-round with the L'Oreal lotion. We arrived at the party at 10 p.m. By 11 p.m., I was Latina. By midnight, I had the same skin tone as Tina Turner."
"I have mixed feelings about New Year's Eve," Heather Saxon of Lexington, who works in communications at Keeneland, wrote via email. "I've had some that were a lot of hype for nothing, and I've had others that were unexpectedly great. I guess that is the irony: You never know what the New Year will bring."
Tucky Williams of Lexington, creator of the Web series Girl/Girl Scene (Girlgirlscene.com), said, "I think New Year's Eve is around so adults have a reason to party. Most holidays are centered around family and children, but this one is just for the grown-ups, who feel it's well-deserved, especially coming on the heels of the biggest family holiday of the year."
Joy Priest, 24, of Lexington concurs.
"I think people are justified in wanting to celebrate the turn of the calendar," she wrote via email, "and in wanting to remember all of the accomplishments they've made over the past year or loved ones that will not be moving into the next year along with them."
Priest, a writer and former Herald-Leader intern who works at The Kentucky Theatre, said her perfect New Year's Eve would be traditional: a party with friends, watching the ball drop and singing Auld Lang Syne. "I've never really done that," she wrote. "Growing up, we always spent New Year's Eve in church. I guess we thought the apocalypse might come at the stroke of midnight or something."
Ison put it in perspective.
"Last year, the ridiculousness of the whole midnight madness struck me like a ton of cheap party favors," said the writer who blogs at Thebourbonista.com. "What were we celebrating? In reality, nothing was going to change. It was just going to be a minute later and we were going to have to remember to put 2012 on our checks. No magic transformation was going to spontaneously occur in any of our lives just because the ball dropped. That's when I realized that New Year's Eve is not about reality. It's about fantasy, it's about hope, it's about believing that the next year is going to be the one when all your dreams come true."
Low-key approach has its rewards
My most memorable New Year's Eves have been quiet affairs. When the millennium turned, I was standing on a rooftop on West Second Street with my partner, Marc, both of us in tuxedoes — mine rented, his owned — watching the city's fireworks display. Two years later, Marc, our friend Penny and I rang in the New Year sipping champagne and playing Scrabble in a hospital room at St. Joseph. Marc had had an emergency appendectomy two nights before — he was recovering nicely — and the nurses extended his visiting hours so we could celebrate together. Last year, we hung out with my friend Kristi, who was home from Berlin for the holidays. We went to a neighbor's small gathering but came home early, sat on the couch and talked. At midnight, we were watching the pilot episode of Twin Peaks and hoping the sound of our laughter wouldn't wake up my and Marc's 1-year-old daughter, who was sleeping upstairs.
Hannon, the cosmetologist, said some of her best New Year's Eves have been spent at home in her pajamas, watching the ball drop on TV and snuggling with her pets, "all warm and cozy, enjoying the peace."
Maybe that's the lesson for New Year's Eve: Skip the shenanigans. Gather close those you hold dear. Have a drink, eat some snacks and laugh. That's my plan for this year.