There’s a particular sort of dread that accompanies a holiday you don’t enjoy. Every year it looms on the calendar, slowly but steadily coming closer, while you try to ignore it. Every year the pressure builds and arrangements must be made — or you risk being plan-less on that most momentous of nights.
You guess it: I’m talking about New Year’s Eve.
I’ve hated it since I was old enough to stay up until midnight watching on TV as people crowded into Times Square. Still, I went along with it; what choice did I have? I made lists of resolutions that I never followed. I worried about what to wear to parties. I stayed up and watched the ball drop on TV, even when I lived within a quick subway ride of Times Square. (I even went to Times Square once, but I was 18, if that counts as an excuse.)
Then one year it hit me. The fact that this day felt meaningless — that nothing ever seemed any different on January 1 than it had on December 31; that Champagne is one of the few alcoholic beverages I can’t stand; that I’m irrationally angered by year-end best-of lists — it all made sense. It was simply that January is not the start of my year.
It started about two weeks ago — the instant messages while I was at work, asking me about my New Year’s Eve plans and the incessant text messages, sending my phone into a vibrating jig while I made the rounds at holiday parties. I was shocked at the extent to which the simple question, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” made my blood boil. I thought that this year I had the perfect excuse to avoid getting fussed up, drunk and spending money: Shabbat.
Now, I don’t mean to be the grinch of New Year’s. However, the holiday presents peer-pressure at its extreme. Almost every single conversation with friends in the last few weeks has included the words “I hate New Year’s.” One friend explained, “I can drink any other weekend”; another one asked “Mah nishtanah halyla hazeh?” Why is this night different from all other nights?
This year, New Year’s Eve falls on Friday night, the night usually reserved for festivities of a different sort, and more thoughtful conversation. Add a little champagne to the scenario, and it sounds like the perfect start to 2011 (especially when compared to finding myself miles away from home in hard-to-walk-in heels). Observing Shabbat will preclude me from going too far, spending money or using electronics.
Until I was a teenager, I had little interest in large social gatherings featuring other people, with one exception — the all-night New Year’s Eve skating party in town. This happened every year at the local rink, and I was never allowed to go. In the revisionist history in my head, everyone I knew was going to this party, and it made their New Year’s Eve, and the year that ensued, charmed. I, on the other hand, staying home and watching the ball drop with my mother, felt as though I was missing out on a pivotal experience.
I’ve always found the moment when the ball drops always manages to be both painful and unremarkable, fueled by adrenaline and dread. And when it was over, I was still the same person, standing in someone’s living room or in my kitchen. If I stop to consider it, a lot of the hype back then was about boys — if I was with one, who he was, who he wasn’t, and who I was because of him. In spite of being a black sheep of sorts, I still desperately wanted to fit in, even if I didn’t really know what that meant.