One interesting part of living in the age of social media is that we’ve all experienced the sensation of finding out that one of our most strongly held opinions is actually an unpopular one — only we didn’t realize it was unpopular until we stumbled upon a cache of tweets and think pieces declaring it so. Here is one of mine: New Year’s Eve is the best holiday. I know, there’s a good chance you vehemently disagree. And while I understand the ritual of staying up until long past midnight, watching a giant ball drop, and kissing somebody may chafe for some, I love that it’s unabashedly sexy and glittery and fun. I love that it’s meant to be spent drinking and gallivanting about town in a seasonally inappropriate sequin dress with friends rather than, like the other winter holidays, sitting at home around the fire with relatives, all of you in sweaters of varying degrees of ugliness (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The great irony of New Year’s Eve 2020, though, is that there’s never been a year to which we’re more excited to bid farewell, and yet, we can’t celebrate its departure in the all-out, stay-up-until-sunrise, shutdown-the-dancefloor way we otherwise might.
But just as we adapted Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas and any number of birthdays and milestones along the way to be more pandemic-friendly, so too can we adjust our understanding of what makes a great NYE. And, if you’re one of those people who cringe at my love of this traditionally rowdy, Champagne-soaked holiday, this might be your time to reclaim the holiday for yourself. Because at its core, NYE is really about reflection, commemoration, and starting afresh — all things that feel especially relevant this year, and all things anyone can do from anywhere, whether in a party dress or sweatpants.
“I like the idea of ending the year by celebrating that, one, you made it, and two, you’re stronger for it,” says San Francisco-based event planner Edward Perotti. “Make this about celebrating not so much the year ending and a new year beginning, because that feels a bit like the cherry on a cake of negativity, but rather what you’ve taken away from this year that’s been really, really positive.”
It may sound counterintuitive, but the fact is, as much as shitting on 2020 has become something of a national pastime, it’s not like as soon as the clock strikes midnight all the issues that have plagued us this year are just going to evaporate. Imagining that they might will only lead you down a road of disappointment — and make you less useful as a force for positive change in 2021 and beyond.
“Personally, I continue to reflect and re-evaluate what is serving me or not serving me this year. 2020 was the year to evolve and I intend to keep doing that going forward. I want to fight for those that don't have a voice, speaking up for marginalized groups, and to use the little platform I do have to try to solve social issues that must be fixed in our community,” shares JoAnna, a 36-year-old personal trainer from Nashville who says she will be spending the evening making s’mores, drinking hot cocoa, and popping a bottle of Champagne at midnight in her backyard with her boyfriend and her dog. “I do like this holiday,” she adds. “It always has a sense of hope and looking forward to starting fresh in a way. Whatever you might say about 2020, it made all of us readjust, re-evaluate, and really take some long tough looks in the mirrors at ourselves.”
Instead of making New Year’s resolutions — a famously fraught activity that often leads to feeling like a colossal failure circa mid-February — why not write down or talk with friends about some ways you feel you’ve grown this year, whether it’s learning to bake, becoming more involved in activism, or surviving a layoff or other personal loss. Or consider other ways to commemorate your year: “For the past few years, I’ve made a Google Doc of the books I’ve read each year and so it’s fun at the beginning of the year to think about what I want to read,” says Christine, 30, a writer and cheese educator from Vermont who plans to stay home with her boyfriend and cook on NYE. “That’s about as resolution-y as I get.”
If you’re going to have a celebration, Perotti says this year, it’s all about embracing creativity and relishing the necessarily tighter group with whom you’re celebrating (if that's allowed where you live, and also making sure everyone gets tested beforehand). “I’m not advocating big parties whatsoever — actually, I have people kind of upset with me that I won’t do them — but there’s the option for having five or six, or throwing in the hybrid and putting some people on Zoom,” he shares. “I'm a big advocate of hybrids, and of using technology, because there are people that normally wouldn't be able to go to your celebration that guess what? Now they can.”
If you’re going to employ Zoom for all or part of your event, Perotti suggests mailing guests matching decor, drink ingredients, or snacks so it feels more like you’re all together. If you’re going to have a small group gathering IRL, he says to consider making masks feel like a natural part of the program — for example, he recently planned an “ugly mask party” in the style of traditional holiday ugly sweater parties. “Why not do something like that for New Year’s — like, who can make the most elaborate mask? It’s little things like that.”
Perotti also says that, this year, it’s nice to shift the focus from NYE being a “romantic” or hookup-seeking kind of night, since that can make those without significant others feel left out in a year when it’s already been tough to be single (and also, making out with random strangers isn’t really a thing right now). “I’m working on [planning an event] right now where it’s a girls party and it’s a celebration of their friendship and how their friendship has evolved through COVID,” he says. “You can’t go out or have big parties, you can’t have that physical togetherness, which sometimes can be a little shallow, so people should be leaving this year knowing their core group a lot better because they've been forced to speak on camera, which doesn't allow the physical environment to distract.”
For those who have historically felt alienated by the cultural emphasis on romance and partying on NYE, these more chilled-out, home-centric celebrations may be a welcome reprieve — not to mention a potential template for future years. “When I was younger and lived in New York City, I sometimes went out and ended up ringing in the new year feeling cold, drunk, lonely, and/or poor,” recalls Christine. “So I tend to be smug about how great of a time I have at home without having to opt in to the nonsense. This year, I will probably feel less smug than usual about staying in, since it’s actually what we’re supposed to be doing.”
As for us NYE traditionalists, maybe just as we’ve discovered new interests, hidden strengths, and a level of tech savviness we never knew we possessed this year, we may also find that a New Years Eve spent with a small group honoring these changes can be just as — if not more — fun than hitting a crowded club or sold-out concert. And if not, well, there’s always next year to go extra hard.