The earliest recorded New Year’s celebration was approximately 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. Revellers of the pagan ritual known as “Akitu” rang in the new year by, among other things, forcing their king to submit before Marduk, the god of water, vegetation, magic and judgment. The high priests then stripped the king of his ceremonial dress and slapped him, hard, upside the head.
The moral of this story? You could be ruler of an empire, rich in wives and treasure, feared and revered by men and women across the land, and New Year’s would still be a bust. In fact, New Year’s Eve is almost always a bust. In a modern urban context the holiday doesn’t (usually) involve ritual sacrifice or submission before a vengeful deity but something arguably far worse: $150 for a prix fixe menu at a crappy restaurant that includes a piece of rubbery chicken and a tiny glass of Champagne; an overpriced Uber to and from said restaurant, and a $50 cover at a bar — any bar. (It could have zero working toilets and cockroach-infested beer taps, but if it’s Dec. 31 you might as well be drinking at the Four Seasons as far as your wallet is concerned.)
You probably won’t get slapped upside the head by ancient Babylonian priests partying in downtown Toronto but come New Year’s Day, you will have a throbbing headache all the same.
And to what end? To ring in a new year that feels and looks in every way like the old one? The only major change January brings is an uptick in Seasonal Affective Disorder, snowstorms and, contrary to popular belief, overeating. According to a study from 2014, people actually purchase more food after the holidays — not less.
Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, I’d like to offer a solution to the many deficiencies of New Year’s Eve. I propose that the holiday be moved to the end of August, when the seasons actually start to change, kids go back to school, and darkness doesn’t shroud the earth at 4 p.m. Imagine that: a New Year’s Eve commemorating refreshing, positive transformation — leaves changing colours, a new fall jacket — as opposed to holiday weight gain and even colder weather. But in the event that this annual rescheduling is not possible (and somehow I highly doubt it is) I’ve come up with another, simpler idea.
On Dec. 31, stay in. Don’t go anywhere. Even if you are in your early 20s and the prospect of drinking legally at bar still excites you, stay home and eat Cheetos in your parents’ living room. Light a fire, turn on the news and watch Torontonians freeze their butts off at Nathan Phillips Square — and congratulate yourself on being sensible for once. Invite your best friends over and watch the critically panned 2011 romantic comedy, New Year’s Eve — starring, among countless others, Zac Efron, Bon Jovi, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ludacris — and marvel at how even though the movie sucks colossally, it still beats going out to a crowded club. Make New Year’s resolutions at 11:30 p.m. (thou shall not drink in 2016) and break them at the stroke of midnight.
But most of all try — if you can — to shed the expectation of fun. Because that, after all, is the crux of the New Year’s problem, the reason the holiday has disappointed humanity since the dawn of time. It is the King of Party Pressure and the King of Party Discontent because, despite all the hype and anxiety around the event, the reason for celebrating is a hollow one. At a wedding, birthday party, gay pride parade, or even the funeral of a much beloved relative who died very old and lived a full and happy life, there is something or someone to rejoice in.
But New Year’s?
The celebration of a single year is either vague (what happened again?) or, if you’ve had a rough 12 months, daunting. For the person who doesn’t have someone to embrace when the clock strikes midnight, or who didn’t get that promotion or reconcile with that friend in 2015, the holiday is like Yom Kippur with confetti: an official prompt to dwell on one’s mistakes, regrets, and loneliness, though not in a temple built for quiet contemplation, but in a crowded bar rife with pressure to put on a happy face.
My advice: don’t party on, like you did last year and the year before. Get in your PJs, phone a few friends, and party in.