The farce of New Years Eve

jgriffinstewart, via Flickr

In many first world countries, tonight will be celebrated with parties, drinking, and the inevitable shouting in unison of “..5!..4!..3!..2!..1!..HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Some will find themselves in public plazas with hundreds or thousands of revelers like those in Times Square, some will be at all-night clubs, and some may celebrate with smaller groups of friends, perhaps sitting around a TV and watching Dick Clark for the 38th time.

However, as Simon Winchester pointed out in an essay that appeared in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, this temporal bacchanalia is a relatively new custom.

New Year madness is a thing of quite modern making, and hardly an improvement on the tradition that long preceded it, which called for a somewhat sober, respectful and reflective morning celebration. I blame the Scots for the worldwide embrace of midnight debauchery. And, of course, whoever it was that, some little while beforehand, went and invented public clocks.

Clocks are the real key. The whole notion of bidding formal and raucous farewell to the Old and offering optimistic greeting to the New was something that could really only occur once we in the public square knew when the exact moment of midnight was. Until the manufacture of proper clock escapements, and until Galileo exhibited the marvels of the pendulum, the slow appearance of dawn just had to do. First light was the only clue anyone had as to the start of a new year.

Besides clocks, he attributes the phenomenon to the Robert Burns’ poem Auld Lang Syne set to a Scottish folk tune, then and now the definitive drunken New Year’s ballad, and an Alfred Tennyson poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells.”

However, before Scots and clocks, people welcomed the new year with the dawn, often in quiet contemplation, preferring to trade a bleary-eyed hangover for a good meal with friends and family, which sounds much more sensible and easier on the liver.

In the article, Winchester mentions the tiny Tongan island of Tafahi, which is the nearest inhabited land to the western side of the International Date Line, and thus the first place where one could celebrate the new decade. If I had my choice, I’d opt for a a spot about 400 miles northwest on the coast of Taveuni in Fiji, where my wife and I spent our honeymoon, watching the sun rise over the coral reef and then enjoying toasted coconut bread and a mango smoothie.

Taveuni, Fiji

Posted by | Comments (2)  | December 31, 2009
Category: Travel News

2 Responses to “The farce of New Years Eve”

  1. Jill K. Robinson Says:

    I must be a poor Scot (from my dad’s family), but I never cared much for the parties on New Year’s Eve. Debauchery, however, does have its place, so perhaps I’m not shaming my ancestors. For the new year, I much prefer hanging at home with family and enjoying the morning, like you. This year, it’s coastal California. Next year, who knows?