Even without getting into the theoretical-physics “time doesn’t exist” stuff and just focusing on our generally agreed upon concept of time, New Year’s Day doesn’t have any inherent meaning.
We give it meaning because counting the Earth’s trips around the sun is a good way to mark the passage of time, but it’s an arbitrarily chosen day of no astrophysical significance. It might as well be July 26 or April 25 or Febtober 54. All of which is to say that the world won’t drastically change on Friday morning just because it’ll be 2021 instead of 2020. There’s not some cosmic switch that’ll get flipped. COVID won’t automatically disappear. Our political and cultural divisions won’t suddenly mend.
I know this. We all know this. But I DON’T CARE. I am so ready to be done with this vile year, this fetid pile of stress and anxiety and loneliness, that I am planning to celebrate New Year’s, which technically means nothing, as though it means everything. Symbolically it sure does. It’s the passage from despair (the realization that our institutions have failed us) into hope (the news that medical science has created a vaccine on an unprecedented timeline). And while 2021 is going to be rough, too, at least for its first half, that hope is plenty of reason to celebrate as we count down toward midnight.
Of course, celebrating in the age of COVID isn’t quite the same. You can’t go to a party or a bar or a concert. You’ll have to ring in the new year by yourself or your household. That’s a drag. But we can adjust. We’ve done that all year.
Here are a few options for fun on New Year’s Eve that won’t increase your exposure to the virus:
• Zoom parties, because the whole group countdown thing only works if there’s a group
After this pandemic is over, it’s going to feel weird gathering in person. We’ve become so accustomed to virtual get-togethers that I’ll probably try to mute myself when I hear a dog barking in the background. But we haven’t had a virtual New Year’s Eve yet, and I think it could be fun. And it doesn’t have to last the whole evening. It could start at 11:30. It could start at 11:55.
• Movies, because there’s a lot of time to kill before midnight
Without the “I can’t believe it got so late so fast” momentum of a big, raucous party, I’m liable to be ready for bed well before midnight these days. A movie is a great way to bridge the gap between the kids going to bed around 9 and the beginning of the new year at 12. There are some New Year’s Eve-specific movies, but they tend to be terrible (“New Year’s Eve”), uneven (“200 Cigarettes”), or incredibly appealing but to a very small audience (“Tom Waits: Big Time”). “The Hudsucker Proxy” is probably the best of them, and I heartily recommend it. But you can also just watch a classic you’ve been meaning to get to. Never seen “The Godfather”? Happy New Year, it’s great.
• Drinks, because they taste good and make you feel good (until they make you feel bad, so beware of going overboard)
There are a few ways to drink on New Year’s Eve. You can do the elegant thing and make classic cocktails (Manhattan, martini, sidecar and so forth). You can go with something lower-proof that won’t knock you out before the ball drops in New York (lagers, spritzers, highballs). Or you can just drink champagne. I’m going to combine those methods and do champagne cocktails. In particular, I’m thinking of the Sbagliato (equal parts sparkling wine, Campari and sweet vermouth) and Death in the Afternoon (1 1/2 ounces of absinthe or Pernod with 3 to 6 ounces of sparkling wine). The former is a quaffable, reasonably strong drink. The latter is a sledgehammer.
• Symbolic burning, because this New Year’s feels more ‘Goodbye 2020’ than ‘Hello 2021’
What better way to say, “Hey, 2020, don’t let the door hit you, you dumb rat-maniac of a year. We’re on to better things, baby!” than by throwing a symbol of this foul year into a fire? It can be in a fireplace, a grill, an outdoor fire pit, anywhere you’d normally have a controlled fire. Just get your 2020 calendar or whatever else says 2020 on it — write “2020” on a piece of cardboard; I’m not particular — and burn it. Maybe toss a little lighter fluid on there before you strike the match just to really drive the point home. Then, as you watch it burn, perhaps even warming your hands over the embers, you can sing “Auld Lang Syne” or kiss your wife or husband or pop champagne. Or maybe just take a nice moment to feel the catharsis.
• Champagne spraying, because you’re never going to win the World Series
You know who looks like they’re having fun? Those guys spraying each other with Champagne in championship locker rooms. Guess what: You don’t need to be able to hit a curveball to do that. You just need to have a few bucks for a bottle of Cook’s or whatever other ultracheap bubbly your gas station carries. It’s fun with small groups. It’s even fun alone. I know, because I’ve done it several times. You just pop the cork and let it land where it may. Then you cover half of the bottle opening with your thumb and jump around, shaking that thing like crazy. It’ll be empty in just a few seconds if you do it right. (Doing it right, in this instance, means you pour big gulps of it into your mouth and let it run all over your face and onto your clothes. Don’t wear good clothes.)
• Sleep, because we’re tired, so very tired
You can also just go to bed at, like, 8:30. I’m going to celebrate, because I’m feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time and I’m into symbolism and ritual. But if you’re not, that’s cool, man. It’s been a rough year. You can call it an early night and wake up in 2021 without Champagne-stained clothes and a hangover — or a half-burnt calendar in the fireplace.