Sunday, January 06, 2013

The American New Years

This blog was prompted mostly by all the folks back home that always ask me, around this time of year “how do people celebrate New Years in America? Do they really all go out in the streets?”. Well, my dears – mostly, but not all of them.

I remember celebrating New Years growing up, back home. It was always the same thing, every year, for us and pretty much everyone we knew. My family would cook for a week and make all these courses of food (so far, nothing new, right?!). And then, we’d all gather together, usually at my parents’ house, some family friends, my grandparents, maybe my aunt and uncle too, sometimes some coworkers, too – just a ton of people. We would always dress up. My dad was adamant about that! The New Year deserves to be welcomed in pretty attire – he always said.  The party would start around 9 PM. We would sit around the looonnggg dinner table, and eat the whole night away, till 6 AM. We’d all have “something” (preferably champagne, but it was not always that) in our glasses for midnight, ‘cause you never wanted the New Year to find you on empty!

Till I was 15, we had almost no TV watching options to speak of all during the year. We had access to one TV channel, and they broadcast 2 hours of program (mostly politics) a day, and about 4 on Saturday. That was it! The only exception was New Year’s night. On that night, the program would start at 7PM, and after the couple of hours of mandatory politics, they’d broadcast the “Revelion” program (the Romanian name for the New Year’s party) till 6 AM the next day. During our celebratory dinner, the TV would always be on, and we’d watch music, stand up comedy and traditional folk dancing and singing all night long. It was special. This was our tradition.

My most favorite memories are of TV watching – we so appreciated all the fun that was so new to us – and being together and laughing at dad’s jokes over good food. My parents, and all the other Romanians I know are still celebrating it like this, minus, for some of them, maybe the TV.

And then, many moons later, I moved to The States. Here, from what I could tell, there is no uniformity in spending New Years, and as far as I can tell, no one tradition to follow. Some people go out to dinner, at 8-9 PM, and then they go home and “watch the ball drop”. For those of you not familiar with the expression – this is the Times Square ball in New York City that “drops” at midnight on the top of a high rise. The streets in New York are full of people and there are bands playing, and dancers dancing on high platofrms. Everyone in America is watching, and the dropping of the ball is broadcast in every time zone of America, too, with every one’s midnight. I have done this many years in a row. I usually go out to dinner before midnight, sometimes, and then go home, open a bottle of champagne and wait to watch the ball and the show broadcast from Times Square on TV. Then, I head to bed around 1 AM, after I feel like I have welcomed the New Year with a full glass.

Some people would have friends over for dinner or dinner and games. I have personally not partaken into the “games” event, but I have had people over for midnight, right after a nice dinner somewhere in town. I am not sure how long the “games” gatherings last, or what games are played, but it might still be time to find out.

Others do head for the streets. When I lived in Myrtle Beach, SC – which is a party/ resort town year round – we did this. We would go out for a late dinner and then we would bar hop. And just look for bars with live music, spend a little bit of time to warm up in one, and then move along to the next bar. There was an area of town (called Broadway at the Beach) where there is no car  traffic allowed, and we would walk about, people watch, sometimes eat street food and wait for midnight to come. Then, we would watch the fireworks show at midnight. Then, head home around 1 AM or when we were completely frozen. Or drunk – whichever came first. It always ended up being a big celebration.

Where I live now, one of the nearest towns, Provo, has an interesting custom. They bring a fire truck in the parking lot of the mall, and they hang an electric, wire ball, all lit up, to the top of the ladder. Then, at midnight, they let the ball drop, just like the famous one in Times Square. Then, there is a fireworks show. Yes, cheesy (about the makeshift ball), but it’s their hometown show. And who am I to judge?! You always have to remember that there are many a people who never see beyond the boundaries of their small towns. This is their tradition. Their memories. One should never make light of that. I was glad to witness this, and feel like part of the local community on my first winter here.

Back home, my parents always made sure they ingrained in our brains that no matter what you do for New Years, you can never let two important ingredients be missing: a full glass, nor can you ever be alone. I have to tell you, I have not done well with the second piece of advice. Many years, I was alone. One year, I even went out to dinner by myself. In a whole bar full of people, and couples (I guess I was not completely alone, technically), I was alone at a bar, discovering the depths of blue cheese.  One other year, I pulled out the yoga mat in my living room and was in the middle of my routine at midnight. Yes, the glass of champagne was nearby. I was never really alone, though. Really. I always had my cats, and all the people in my memories from years past.

Nowadays, I try to bring in some traditions into our new lives. We try to go to dinner and always be awake and together on the big night. I still agree with my dad – this one night should not just go on like any other night of the year. We always dress up, even if it’s just to be in front of the New York ball. I have tried for many years, to get dinner reservations for as close to midnight as possible, just to be around a lot of people – like those folks in New York, or like Myrtle Beach used to be. But anywhere else in America besides the party towns, they always have you out of any joint by 11.30 PM.

There is one thing I have never tried – one of those reservations at a hotel for the New Year’s special.  You reserve a multiple course dinner in the hotel’s ball room or reception hall, everyone wears fancy gowns and tuxes, and then you toast champagne with everyone else at midnight. Then, it’s up to the room for the night. I would like that experience for sure at least one time.

In the whole scheme of things, America’s New Years’ traditions are like everything else in the country – pretty much allows everyone to make their own. If there is one uniformity in America, it’s the uniformity of everyone making a consistent determination of not being uniform. I do miss the big parties at my mom’s house for New Years, but  just as much as any parties, I guess. If there is one thing I can say is that my dad was right – whatever you do, you gotta make it special. It is the threshold between past and future, and you will never meet the old year one more time in your life. Nor will the new year ever be a baby again. The switch is worth celebrating. Now, what “special” means to you, it’s totally your choice. A pattern or lack of one across all people is entirely irrelevant, I have found.

These are just some of the things I know of and I have experienced in the past 14 years of spending my most important night of the year in the Land of the Braves. From my shores to yours, I hope your celebration was lively and memorable and opened the doors to a bright new year.

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