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A Concise Guide to New Year’s Eve


Illustration by Meinert Hansen.

One of my most enjoyable New Year's Eves was spent worrying that robots would take over the world. It was December 31, 1999. My vague understanding of Y2K left me apprehensive. Would the fabric of our society quickly unravel into a desperate, Hobbesian state of nature? More importantly, would the machines that ruled us be more like HAL or Johnny Five? As if sensing that we might soon have to accustom ourselves to a life of simpler pleasures, my family and I sat around the kitchen table. We listened to songs and talked until 3 am. It was wonderful, and, with a bit of careful planning, your New Year Eve's this year can be the same. (A giggling sibling who is drunk for the first time is optional but recommended.)

Step 1: Acceptance

Glitter hats, noisemakers and a giant, illuminated ball? What are you compensating for, New Year's Eve? Methinks the holiday doth protest too much, since, for all its flash, New Year's is an undeniably melancholic event.

Bleak weather and holiday-gluttony guilt aside, it's the only time of year when people dissatisfied with their lives make half-hearted promises to themselves en masse. Not to mention the fact that its theme song, "Auld Lang Syne," while pretty, is also pretty depressing. "Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?"—what's with the rhetorical question, Bobby?

My point: don't berate yourself if you're feeling down. A lot of people are, glitter hats and all. We're in this together.

Step 2: Should You Stay or Should You Go?

The great debate: the merits of the home front versus mingling. One will likely feel more familiar than the other, depending on your typical weekend plans. The option you are less accustomed to, however, might surprise you.

Staying in could mean that you nearly wind up in the emergency room with a concussion after ignoring your partner's advice to be wary of the black ice on a jungle gym meant for kindergartners. An evening out could entail participating in a PG-rated all-girl game of Spin the Bottle. (I regret nothing.)

Question your instincts when deciding—it could lead somewhere wonderful. And have an emergency number and a bottle of breath spray at the ready.

Step 3: Kiss First, Party Later

I've seen seemingly happy, committed couples erupt in anger over a lacklustre midnight embrace. I've also witnessed this physical ritual between strangers lead, the following morning, to the first regret of the New Year.

I suggest taking a cue from Alvy Singer and Annie Hall's first date: make the kiss the preface, not the climax. Get it out of the way as soon as possible, if not with your date, then with someone who is also a Woody Allen fan (that way, you'll have something to talk about afterwards).

And don't let the kiss rule. Ring in the New Year with variations on fist bumps, elaborate secret handshakes and/or a small flash mob. Have fun while confusing your more traditional (and now jealous) fellow partygoers.

Step 4: You've Got Millers to Go Before You Sleep

Committing to a party also means you're committing to staying up late, since the party only really gets underway after midnight. That said, moderation is key in terms of pre-witching hour drinking.

I once tried to steady my nerves at a party by drinking four beers between 10:30 pm and 12 am. I vaguely recall a conversation about Buddhism with my sister's then-boyfriend's father. I also may or may not have passed out on a bed full of coats at 12:30 am. Nothing screams "I'm going to put my health first this year!" like drunkenly dozing two feet from your sister's then-boyfriend's younger brother. I awoke at 4 am to a near-empty apartment. (I regret nothing.)

Take it easy on the hooch. You'll still need your liver next year.

Step 5: Mind Your Words

I dread small talk. I'm terrible at it. Just ask the people I've inadvertently insulted on account of ignoring standard party etiquette. I tend to go straight for the psychoanalytic heart-to-heart. Occasionally this works, though you'll usually come across as weird and nosy.

I recommend preparing a short list of safe topics. A warning: you might think "best films of 2012" is a harmless subject, but things can derail quickly in certain crowds. I've watched parties turn ugly over a snide comment regarding Stanley Kubrick. Oddly, religion and politics were discussed without incident. It pays to know your audience.

If all else fails, a simple icebreaker: What were you doing December 31, 1999?

And who would've thought the robots would be as friendly as Siri?

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