The song may ask “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” but I can tell you right now what I am doing: staying home. When I get an invitation for a New Year’s Eve party, I know that it is from someone I don’t know very well since if there is one thing my family and friends know about me, it is that I do not leave the house on New Year’s Eve.
Staying up late to revel on New Year’s Eve is something that we learn to crave from the time we are small children when we see the grownups around us making a big deal out of it while we are either dutifully put to bed or told, “Sure, stay up if you want to,” only to find we have fallen asleep and been put to bed only to be woken up by the sudden midnight burst of noisemakers and banging pans. Like an eternal Cubs fan, we roll over and mutter “next year,” as defiantly as a 7-year-old can.
By the time we reach the double-digits of childhood, staying up until midnight becomes a rite of passage; by the time we reach our early teens, it is mandatory. Not that there is much legal, mind you, for an early teenager to do on New Year’s Eve save pizza, soft drinks and playing pool.
New Year’s Eve dating becomes a major consideration during our mid-teens, though sadly without the consolation of legal inebriation to console the choice of dates most of us are capable of procuring for what is undoubtedly the biggest date night of the year. One thing that everyone knows about a New Year’s Eve date: you will be kissing at midnight unless you or your date have already passed out, which is considered extremely bad manners. That is like telling your date that you need another drink because you can still see him/her.
When we’re married, New Year’s Eve is often a time to get out of the house and act like a real couple and leave the kids at home. The biggest difficulty is having to explain why both Mom and Dad are “under the weather,” or even under the table, the next morning.
For most of us, staying home on New Year’s Eve means being a social flunkie, being one of those people who have nothing better to do, nowhere else to go. But there was one South Side Irish family on the next block when I was growing up in the western suburbs who elevated New Year’s Eve domesticity to an art form. They would stay home, get dressed up in ball gowns and black tie, treat themselves to the best appetizers and hors d’oeuvres and liquor that they could afford, and have a sing-along and dance in what they used to call the parlor. It all sounded incredibly dull, but after joining them one year as a young teen when my own parents went in futile search of their own perfect New Year’s Eve revelry, I never looked back, save for the years that I ended up having to perform in bands that were entertaining on the night. And even then, playing for the hoi polloi and being paid to help others have fun with a roomful of mostly strangers seemed so lifeless by comparison.
Staying home is still how I ring in the New Year decades later, and it remains a family night that has no pressure whatsoever, but where we look forward—and back—for a moment, at least, surrounded by those who really matter, all looking and feeling our best. (Dennis Polkow)