The worst part about New Year’s Eve is that it cuts into my routine: sleeping, for example. It’s the only time of year I am forced to stay up beyond my bedtime. By 9:00 on most winter nights I am already snug in my robe, engrossed in a good book. But on December 31st that changes. I plummet into forced frivolity, attired in my traditional green taffeta dress, attending a party with people, who on any other night, are intelligent, stimulating, well-grounded adults, but on New Year’s Eve morph into the worst versions of themselves.
My friend, Jim, a portfolios analyst, single-handedly responsible for making sound fiscal decisions, was found last New Year’s Eve sipping from a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a pink feather boa tossed around his shoulders.
Similarly, Ted, who to the world is Dr. Ted, the vascular surgeon–a physician, who has by-passed some of the best, was discovered in the pantry with a woman who wasn’t his wife. She turned out to be the caterer who had left her post to retrieve ice. What she got instead was Dr. Ted.
New Year’s Eve is fraught with improprieties as we regress into absurdity. Yet, it wasn’t always this way. As a child I found this night mysteriously romantic. I loved watching Dick Clark and the big bands fill up the TV screen, blasting their music into the room. At midnight, confetti snowed over Times Square, as people, shivering in their flimsy outfits, looked up at the ball descending upon a new year.
Such nights resonate still. At home, my parents threw their annual bash, inviting friends over for a gala celebration. Hors d’oeuvres spilled onto silver platters: “pigs” in little flaky blankets, goose liver pâté, large shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce and served with toothpicks adorned in their frilly-edged tutus. There were drippy cheeses and puffed pastries stuffed with creamy interiors. The drinks flowed into dinner, which was usually a Beef Wellington with roasted potatoes and green beans, a salad with my father’s homemade Roquefort dressing and profiteroles for dessert.
As the guests danced the night away, their voices reverberating through the house, I sat on the top stair of the hall landing, eavesdropping as they made merry and got progressively high on French champagne. The fur coats had been abandoned, and like stuffed animals lay in the guest room reeking from heady perfumes. The men wore tuxes, the women long dresses as they swirled around our living room floor, the victrola belting out the tunes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Vic Damone.
At midnight, I was allowed to join the adults in the singing of Auld Lang Syne and a sip of champagne–a ritual fraught with heady exhilaration that seemed mesmerizing to a little girl found staying up past midnight. It was exquisitely intoxicating–a night that paved the way for all New Year’s Eve to come.
So, what happened? When did I become so blasé? Perhaps, it’s the realization that no matter how hard I try, or as festive as it gets, subsequent New Year’s Eves could never compare to those that I, in the glow of youth, observed from my lofty perch. I was awed by what I considered the grandest night of the year, waiting to grow up and be an active participant in that adult world of glamorous evenings. The anticipation alone was seductive.
Or, perhaps it is the loss of times past when the night spread out with no end in sight. When the charm of it all seemed unstoppable: the women in their sequin-studded dresses and rhinestone barrettes–their laughter floating above the room, the whiff of sensuality hanging heavy in the air. It was a sweeter, gentler time, as I watched it all unfold, trying not to succumb to sleep for fear of missing even one beguiling moment.
Each New Year meant a step closer to my own independence, when I could become one of them–a dazzling woman in the arms of some dashing man. Even my parents seemed the epitome of grandeur, as they stepped out of their conventional daily lives, and were catapulted into a magical night that reeked of forbidden allure, so alien to the world I inhabited at age twelve.
It is these thoughts that jog my memory as the New Year approaches. Why, despite the glitz, the glam, the razzle-dazzle, the pink feather boa and Dr. Ted in the pantry with the caterer, have I become less enchanted by it all? And, why does my green taffeta dress still hang in my closet, waiting for the perfect occasion, which like the New Year’s eves of my childhood, seem so mystically elusive and far beyond my grasp?
by Judith Marks-White
Judith Marks-White writes regularly for Act Two magazine.