I have rituals that signal the beginning of the holiday season. One is completely anal and makes sense only to other Virgos. I will absolutely not let myself play my Christmas CDs until the day after Thanksgiving and I make myself put them away promptly on the 12th day of Christmas, when I take down my tree. I play one CD, Joan Baez’ "Noel," extremely loud, as her 1960s-esque wailing about baby Jesus and the little drummer boy puts me immediately in the Christmas spirit and drives my husband running from the house as if a hundred angels were scratching their nails on celestial blackboards.
The holidays mean rituals and rituals are good. They ground us in the natural order of things and remind us that we can create our own joy. But one holiday ritual I abhor is New Year’s Eve and I think I am not alone. So I am celebrating a "new" New Year’s ritual this year. It will involve dressing up and champagne and a feast with friends. But my New Year’s will take place on Wednesday, November 12.
You see, I finally figured out that December 31 has no meaning to me, or to anyone. I dare you to ask 10 people if they like New Year’s; I’m sure at least eight will say they hate it. Why is that? Because the December 31 mandate to be happy and make resolutions and pray you get a date (or if you’re like me, pray you can get a babysitter) seems both forced and arbitrary. More than a birthday, December 31 reminds us not of joy and new beginnings, but of our own mortality, really bad decisions, and perceived shortcomings: I’m 30 and not married yet; I’m 40 and losing my hair; I’m 50 and don’t own a house; I’m 60 and a complete loser. Why does the ball dropping in Times Square on December 31 seem more of a death toll than a cause for celebration? And why doesn’t Dick Clark ever get older? These are big questions.
How can you reflect on your life, turn over a new leaf, and make resolutions on a day that has no personal meaning? I would bet that if you went back to those same 10 people and asked what the most significant day of the year is for them, what day changed their lives forever, they’d all be able to make proclamations like: May 12: the day I had a near-fatal car accident; June 1: the day my wife gave birth to twins; October 25: game six, ’86; August 16: the day Elvis died; September 12: the day Bush first pronounced nuclear "noo-kyoo-ler" in front of the United Nations.
Happy or sad, a day of great significance seems the smarter time to reset your personal clock, to kiss the water under the bridge, let bygones kill two birds, and mix as many metaphors as possible, preferably with good friends, a bit of bubbly, and an eye to the future.
So why November 12 for me? Hey, even though I actually got engaged on New Year’s Eve (a thrilling accomplishment in and of itself), November 12 is more significant to me. Last November 12 (it was a Tuesday), sucked the big egg for me; I was laid off. Downsized. Decapitated. Fried. Kaput. At the time, I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to me. The economy was in the toilet, and I had no idea what the future held for me. On the upside, it seemed a good time to go shopping. Which I did. It seemed a good time to go to the gym a lot, stop eating carbohydrates, and lose 15 pounds. Which I did. After all, you can never be too thin, or too poor. Or is it the other way around?
I endured seven months of unemployment, the upside of which was discovering the beauty of a tuna fish sandwich and the medicinal powers of a very dry martini. Then, however, once I finally did land a job and thought the curse had been broken, I brilliantly stepped off a curb the wrong way in Philadelphia and broke my foot. I endured eight weeks of negotiating my world (and my new job) in a cast and on crutches, the upside of which was discovering the beauty of the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through, Tylenol with codeine, and the medicinal powers of a very dry martini, though not necessarily all at once. I put the 15 pounds back on in no time.
Now, 17 snowstorms and 249 rainstorms later, November 12 is coming around again. And, believe it or not, I’m filled with a teeming desire to celebrate. Because November 12 means something to me now.
Looking back, I realize I’m in such a better place than I was last year on this date. I have plenty to be thankful for and plenty to look ahead to. I have a job I love — and have closed the door on my former employer, Fear and Loathing Inc., a company permanently stuck inside the box. I can walk unassisted on my own two feet now.
What else? I own a laptop now (always wanted one of those). And I went to a friend’s 40th birthday party a few weeks ago and learned that I still had enough synapses to recreate verbatim the toast I had written that morning but left at home. Martha Stewart never said it, but synapses are a good thing.
I can’t wait for November 12. I’m making resolutions, too, for the coming year, like staying away from Dunkin’ Donuts, writing an article on the world’s best vodkas (which will require significant research and perhaps some world travel), and other life-altering plans. So, where will I be on December 31? It doesn’t matter, because I’ll already have all my glasses, half full, in a row.