By Noel Dolan
Take a snow globe, shake it, and watch the snow fall down. You'll want to pick it up and do it again. There's a peaceful, gentle and easy pleasure in doing so over and over.
Similarly, there's something to be said for the simplicity of New Year's Eve after all the craziness of the holiday season, which kicks into gear with the Halloween costume and candy marketing of late summer, steamrolls through Thanksgiving, and encompasses a politically correct balance of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Eid al-Fitr.
While some people print their cards with ". . . and a happy new year," New Year's really has no consumer-fed demands. Unless you're hosting a party, you don't have to decorate, bake, write cards or dress up. No one feels compelled to pose the family in front of a tree and take a picture of the day, or riffle through the family recipe book for a made-just-once-a-year item, or purchase high-end audiovisual equipment.
There was a time when my husband and I dressed up and met friends at a restaurant or a party, but having kids changed that. Even if I did have somewhere to go, I don't think I could stay on my feet in high heels at midnight anymore. Part of the beauty of New Year's Eve, though, is that you can celebrate it at home in your PJs and slippers. You can even choose not to celebrate it, and the new year will come anyway. It's like having your sister come for a visit: "No, no, don't get up off the couch for me. I know where everything is."
New Year's Eve celebrations span religions, nationalities and ages. Thanksgiving approaches this spirit, but is limited to Americans (and expatriates like my friend Maureen, who hosts a dinner in London every November). I remember being confined to bed while pregnant with my son waiting for 2000 to arrive and watching the New Year's celebrations around the globe. There I was in my flannel nightie and wool socks watching fireworks in China, gold-lamé clad dancers in Brazil and partyers in Times Square wearing novelty glasses shaped like 2000, their eyes sparkling through the center zeroes. We all waited for the big countdown regardless of where we were, and it came, again and again and again through each time zone.
When I was little, my cousins, my sister and I would spend the time after dinner punching holes out of colored construction paper and collecting them in a pot, a tedious process. We weren't allowed to stay up until midnight, but at 10 o'clock we would gather on the back stoop and throw our hard work into the air and yell with delight. The cold air was bracing, enough to rouse us for another hour before sleep would come. We would scrape the bits of paper together into small piles with numbed fingers and throw them over and over until the babysitter took us in for the night.
In some ways, that's what New Year's Eve is: We roll all our efforts of the past year into a ball and throw it away, ready to start over. It's time to shake things up. Frankly, I can't wait to be done with 2007, a year full of family illness, death, worry and stress, not to mention a less-than-stellar football season. Take it, throw it away, and shoot off some fireworks to boot.
If you've had a bad year, New Year's is a time of hope. You think the next year has to be better. A new day, a new year, a clean slate, a fresh chance: That's the hope of that magical night. Even if the year was a good one, you greet the new year with anticipation, thinking, "OK, bring it on. I'm ready for more."
And so we wait for midnight, counting down those final seconds together. Whether we're at a fancy party, alone at home, in a crowded city, in a rural village, working the night shift at the hospital, sleeping warily in a bunker in a war-torn nation, worrying about how many calories are in champagne, offering the last of the flat bread to a friend, the new year will come.
Take a snow globe, and shake it up. . . .