How I’m celebrating a sober New Year’s Eve

The last night of the year is supposed to be one for celebration, writes Christopher R Moore. But when you aren’t drinking, it can be a tricky thing to navigate

Sunday 31 December 2023 16:31
<p>I propose that we treat New Year’s Eve for what it is: the last gasp of an exhausted year and the start of a long goodbye to the cold and wet season</p>

I propose that we treat New Year’s Eve for what it is: the last gasp of an exhausted year and the start of a long goodbye to the cold and wet season

On 6 March 2021, I put down my can of lager and never picked it up again.

It was the start of what is – at time of writing – a 1029-day adventure that has seen me move across the country, hit an uncountable number of tennis balls, and experience all the wild joys and griefs that one’s early thirties tend to bring.

Sometimes, I miss drinking. But I don’t miss it enough.

Even in my drinking days, New Year’s Eve was always a fairly low-key affair for me. I grew up in a small town where the idea of going out – let alone out outon New Year’s Eve was almost impossible. My formative memories of seeing in the new year are of small living rooms and of coffee tables laden with half-empty bottles of unmentionable bottom-shelf wine.

In this context, your drunken kiss-that-doesn’t-count-because-it’s-midnight-and-it’s-traditional would either be with someone you’ve known since primary school, or with one of their parents (I cannot honestly recommend either). More than anything, however, I remember feeling that we were all trying extremely hard to have a good time.

In a 1999 paper entitled, The Pursuit of Happiness Can Be Self-Defeating, Jonathan Schooler, Dan Ariely, and George Loewenstein singled out New Year’s Eve for particular focus. They rather cynically hypothesised that “those individuals who devoted the greatest effort to having a good time would actually have a less positive experience” than those who presumably just turned up and rolled with it. Of the 475 participants, some 83 per cent indicated that they were disappointed with how their New Year’s Eve went. This sense of disappointment was even more acute among those who had planned for – and really quite earnestly tried to have – a good time.

I’m sure many of us recognise what Schooler, Ariely and Loewenstein are getting at here. It is easy to find oneself in the kitchen somewhere around 11:20pm on New Years Eve, half-empty ice tray in hand, fighting off a wave of tiredness, and wondering why all the festive spirit seems to have evaporated. We might reasonably look at this research and ask ourselves: why? Why do we continue to put so much pressure on the last night of the year?

Interestingly, New Year’s Eve seems to be the only major date in the calendar that lacks romanticised representation in fiction. Every year, a thousand Hallmark movies / Charles Dickens / The Muppets teach us the true meaning of Christmas, and even smaller festivals like Halloween are the subject of films and tv shows that idealise them.

Not so for New Year’s Eve, which has to make do with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. And even that isn’t broadcast live. Culture has given us lots of ways to imagine “the perfect Christmas”, but the perfect New Year’s Eve does not seem to exist even in fiction. It is quite disarming to think that we have almost no rose-tinted standard by which to judge New Year’s Eve, and yet we still find ourselves disappointed by it.

With this in mind, I propose that we treat New Year’s Eve for what it is: the last gasp of an exhausted year and the start of a long goodbye to the cold and wet season. Let’s not kid ourselves anymore; New Year’s Eve should be an absolute shambles. Are the Christmas decorations disintegrating even before your first guests arrive? Superb. Is the buffet very obviously comprised of leftovers? Brilliant. Have you been drawn into a heated debate about whether it’s acceptable to put Christmas songs on the playlist? Wonderful. Ideal, even.

The new year will start whether you like it or not, and change does not have to wait for a special box on the calendar to get rolling. It starts whenever you say it starts. The 6th of March 2021 was, to most of the world, a completely unremarkable Saturday; but for me it is the most special of all dates.

Tonight, I will put on mymost ordinary hoes, buy a bottle of extremely average ginger beer, and head across town with absolutely no expectations. It is my third New Year’s Eve in sobriety. I do at last feel like I’m getting the hang of it.

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