This past New Year’s Eve I was sitting on the couch with my 11-year-old daughter watching TV, awaiting the arrival of the new year. It should have been an exciting moment to finally say goodbye to 2020 and welcome 2021.
“It doesn’t seem real that it’s going to be a new year tomorrow,” my daughter said.
“I was just thinking the same thing!” I replied. “It feels like just another day.”
I started to reflect on my past New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s been years since I celebrated New Year’s Eve in the traditional way. I searched the recesses of my memory, trying to find images from my younger years when I looked forward to festively ringing in the new year with friends. A few stood out.
When 1991 became 1992 I was living in New York City. That year I had recently started dating a nice young man. We braved the masses in Times Square to watch the ball drop with Dick Clark, a joyful, festive New Year’s Eve. The next day, we celebrated New Year’s Day with dinner at his Italian American family’s house in Little Italy. I had walked through Little Italy countless times., fascinated by narrow streets, former tenements and endless Italian restaurants. I was excited to celebrate the new year with a traditional New York Italian American family.
Unfortunately, the reason I remember this New Year’s Day so vividly is the humiliation I felt during the appetizer phase of dinner. For the first time ever, I was served a whole artichoke. I had no idea how one eats an artichoke. A wiser woman would have waited and watched how the others were eating it first. Instead, I dug in by tearing off a hard outer leaf, putting the whole leaf in my mouth, and starting to chew. I immediately recognized my mistake as I felt like I was chewing on bark that simply would not break down. Then I noticed the odd looks I was getting from the family members at the table. I wanted to climb down under that table and disappear until at least the next new year.
The year 1999 turned to 2000 was also memorable. As the world anxiously anticipated a Y2K meltdown, my family sadly anticipated a different kind of new era. The house my parents had owned for the past 40 years was being bought by the city of Spokane Valley because Evergreen Road was to be expanded from a two-lane country road to a four-lane byway to accommodate traffic from the new mall and other development. The front yard in which I had played as a child would become one of the new lanes. I hosted a party at my parents’ house for friends and family to share memories of growing up there and to say a bittersweet goodbye to the house. We created a time capsule and hid it in the house.
Another year that stands out is 2004 becoming 2005. I was living in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer. Several friends and I took a vacation to an island to celebrate the holidays. We hired a driver to take us to a huge beach party to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I was dancing on the beach with a man I had met when my friends waved and walked away. That should have been no big deal. But when the man and I went our separate ways and I wanted to find my friends, I discovered I had lost my phone. I walked up and down the beach searching every open-air bar but couldn’t find my friends anywhere.
By the time it was about 2:00 AM, the only thing I could think to do was get a ride back to our hostel. To my utter dismay, I was told no rides would be available until 6:00 in the morning. What could I do but make the most of it? I danced on the beach all night long. By myself.
When the sun started to rise on the beach, the techno dance music changed to U2’s “New Year’s Day.” The lyrics include, “Nothing changes New Year’s Day.” The sunrise was more spectacular than any fireworks show as I danced alone on the beach, others passed out on the beach or back in their rooms. It was a new day, just like any other day. Nothing changes New Year’s Day. Except it was magical. And the lyrics continue, “I will begin again.”
I realized this New Year’s Eve I had failed my daughter by not preparing a celebration, by telling her “it’s just another day.” People around the world celebrate New Year’s Eve with great fanfare, including toasts and spectacular fireworks for a reason. We need new beginnings. We need fresh starts. We need a restart button. We need a symbolic gesture that says “goodbye” to the old, as we resolve to do better in our lives, make resolutions to be better. Nothing changes New Year’s Day but the changes we determine to make.
My 2021 resolution is to create some magic for my daughter next New Year’s Eve. I hope she will have many of those magical moments, dancing on the beach or elsewhere. Oh, and I also resolve to teach her how to eat artichokes…just in case.
Amy McGarry grew up in Spokane Valley, Washington. After a 20 year hiatus, she moved back to Spokane Valley where she lives with her husband, daughter and two cats. She is the author of “I am Farang: Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand” available on Amazon.com, Auntie’s Bookstore, and Barnes and Noble.