Once upon a time—well, maybe more than just once—we used to really kick it up on New Year’s Eve. In those halcyon days before children made their appearance, we’d start the celebration, usually in the company of friends, in the late afternoon of the final day of the year. And occasionally—okay, maybe frequently—we’d wind it down around mid-morning of the first day of the new year.
But it wasn’t drunken carousing. Honestly. Sure, there was wine involved with dinner, a few beers during the course of the festivities, and champagne, of course, at midnight. But our carousing was generally of the physical variety, outdoors, playing under the stars.
One wonderful night, in the early seventies I think, we embarked on a progressive dinner party in our neighbourhood. Those were all the rage back then. Five couples were involved, beginning with hors d’oeuvres at the first home, and finishing with dessert, coffee, and liqueurs at the final destination. As I recall, we welcomed in the new year at the fourth place on the tour, but not in front of the television. Rather, we were assembled on the back deck, trying to catch snowflakes on our tongues, and chorusing Auld Lang Syne to the wintry world surrounding us. The champagne truly was ice-cold!
Later, I think around three-thirty in the morning, we started a game of ball-hockey on the road with co-ed teams, spouses on opposite sides, no bodychecking allowed. Of course, that rule didn’t last long, not with the high snowbanks piled on each side of the road. Other neighbours, hearing the ruckus, came out to join us, and the number swelled until we actually had to take turns, in shifts, playing the game. Someone set up a hot chocolate table in their garage, someone else brought cookies, and we played ‘til no one cared anymore who won.
Everyone was home abed by the time the sun came up, but not much sooner!
Another memorable celebration, in the early eighties, was at the lake, by now with kids on the scene. Together with friends from the cottages on either side of us, we organized a mini-progressive dinner party, tromping from one place to the other through waist-deep snow that covered the lakefront pathway between the three homes. Before midnight, all fourteen of us—six adults and eight children of varying ages—slogged our way out on the frozen lake, far enough out that, when we lay down on our backs, no sign of land could be seen. We made snow-angels under the light of the moon, and tried to decide who was better at it, the old guys or the youngsters. The kids outnumbered us, so they won.
On the stroke of twelve, we were all lying on our backs, the starry vault overhead, singing Auld Lang Syne yet again to the boundless universe. I can still recall the semblance of weightlessness, spreadeagled there on the snowy lake, feeling much as a spacewalker might feel, free of gravity, freed from the bounds of earth. To this day, that remains one of my New Year’s highlights.
We did the same thing many times afterward, and it was always good. But never so special as that very first time.
Another season found us out on the lake again, in the afternoon, with grown-up daughters home from school for the holiday. Together with those very same neighbours and their kids, we cleared a large patch on the ice, spray-painted a couple of large targets at either end (a no-no, I know, but we were seized by the moment), and formed four teams for a makeshift curling bonspiel. Large chunks of ice cut from the lake with chain saws served as curling rocks, and we propelled them from one end to the other by giving them a hard push-start with snow shovels.
Nobody remembers who won the ‘spiel, but we all felt like rosy-cheeked winners when we adjourned for drinks and dinner just as darkness fell. Seems to me we were all in bed shortly after midnight that year!
Our last year at the lake before we moved featured a conga line after dinner, started by one of the younger folks and heartily embraced by everyone. We started in the dining room, traipsed out the back door to the deck, and followed it around the house to the front, where we came back in through the sliding doors to the dining room. We must have gone around five or six times, singing, kicking, and laughing ourselves sick.
Thank goodness for pine floors that could stand up to the pounding of twenty-four wet feet. We barely made it to midnight that year.
But it’s all different now. Retired and living in Florida for the winter and into spring, we seem to have lost our zest for the athletic celebrations of yore. These days, our New Year’s Eve gatherings are more likely to be at a favourite restaurant on one of the many beaches in the area, idly chatting and reminiscing over drinks with good friends, ensconced on the outdoor patio waiting for the sun to set into the ocean.
We make bets as to who can come closest to predicting the actual time of sunset, but no one ever pays off. That’s because, by then, we’re trooping inside to our table, already laden with the evening’s repast. We feast, we dance to golden oldies performed by musicians who weren’t even born when those songs were our own, and we talk about how great it is to be in this land of sun and fun. Midnight eventually arrives, awfully late it now seems, and we “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” at the fireworks on the beach, before wending our way homeward.
After we’re home, however—after all the kissing and hugging, the handshakes, the singing, and the wishing of great things for everyone in the new year are finished—I slip outside to our patio where, alone in the dark, I lay down flat on a chaise lounge, stare up at the nighttime sky, and give thanks for all the new years I’ve ushered in. I even whisper a hoarse chorus of Auld Lang Syne to no one in particular.
My great wish is that this coming year will lead me, and all of us, to yet another happy year-end occasion with friends and family, when we can celebrate and welcome another new beginning.