New Year’s Eve! The yearly chance to symbolically wipe the slate clean and begin a new year, full of unknown joys, sorrows, adventures, achievements, and memories.
Throughout the world each new year is celebrated with parties, fireworks, prayers, jubilation, and resolutions; with tearing up the old and beginning the new, and with popping corks and downing bubbles of dreams, perhaps this year to finally be fulfilled.
I spent the earliest New Year’s Eves I remember with my grandparents, watching Guy Lombardo on television, seeing the ball drop in Times Square, eating Christmas cookies, and sipping ginger ale before I was shooed upstairs to bed. As I grew older I begged for champagne, which I finally was allowed when I was about 15. I was dreadfully disappointed when it tasted more or less like stale ginger ale.
I dreamed of New Year’s Eves like the ones in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. I was sure when I was grown up I would celebrate New Year’s Eves the way Fred and Ginger did in their movies.
Years went by, Guy Lombardo’s band was in color instead of black and white, and then Dick Clark took over the midnight gig. But my New Year’s Eves didn’t change much. I grew up and moved to New York’s Greenwich Village, but, sadly, my life didn’t become Fred and Ginger’s.
The world had changed. At one New Year’s party in the Village I was not only the only one not wearing jeans, I also appeared to be the only one who arrived sober. Trying to fit in, I had a glass (or two) of punch (half vodka and half champagne) but after a couple of hours of watching people passing out on the floor, smoking hash, or throwing up, I went home, watched the ball drop forty blocks north, and wrote doleful poetry.
A few years later I moved to the Jersey suburbs, where I was single, couples gave parties for other couples, and I watched the ball drop and served ginger ale to my children.
One year a friend still in the city suggested I join him; we’d have dinner and then go to Times Square to watch the Big Event in person. Finally, a New Year’s adventure! I arrived to find he’d decided that, for auld lang syne, he’d telephoned his high school girl friend of 20 years before to tell her he still loved her. She’d told him to get lost. Yes, we went to Times Square. (It was crowded and crazy, as expected.) He spent the rest of the night drinking and crying for his lost love. I would have gone home, but buses had stopped running by the time he’d sobered up enough that I was convinced he really wasn’t going to kill himself in her honor.
The closest I got to a theoretically glamorous New Year’s Eve was the year I spent midnight on a hotel rooftop in Tuscany, drinking wine and watching “Singing in the Rain” (in Italian, of course) with two dozen other parents of teenagers attending a special school there. I’ll admit the town’s fireworks were lovely, and I wrote a lot in my journal that night. But, bottom line, it was one more New Year’s Eve alone: I was the only single parent in a crowd of couples clinging to each other and wishing they were home in Santa Barbara.
That year I pretty much decided New Year’s Eve was Fred and Ginger’s night. Not mine.
And then, eight years ago, I got married. And six years ago my husband and I were wandering the streets of old Quebec City and happened upon a restaurant called le Saint-Amour. (http://www.saint-amour.com) The menu sounded enticing, so we made a reservation for that night. And went back two nights later. And made a reservation for three months later, for New Year’s Eve.
And, yes, it was magic. Fred and Ginger wouldn’t have been able to dance. But they could have worn their most elegant clothes. And the nine small courses, all chosen by the chef and served with their own wines, in a glassed in room lit with tiny white lights, with snow falling above and music playing, served by gentlemen in tuxedos who knew their profession well, were perfect. The evening was a flawlessly performed drama. The food was displayed to perfection, tasted even more spectacular than it was described in the evening’s menu, and the courses, which started at 8 in the evening, were timed precisely so that the final presentation, a selection of hand-dipped chocolates served with champagne, arrived at exactly midnight, as the elegant waiters handed each guest a noisemaker and the musicians played Auld Lang Syne.
The women put on their fur coats and gloves and gentlemen bundled up in hats and scarves and boots and everyone went out onto the snow-covered streets lit by thousands of white lights. It was snowing lightly. Once in a while a horse-drawn carriage clopped by. We walked the several blocks back to our grand old hotel in the heart of Old Quebec, passing others dressed in everything from formal attire to ski jackets, all smiling and wishing everyone else a “Bonne année!”
Now I know what New Year’s Eve can be.
Hoping yours this year is exactly the way you dream it will be.
It’s a strange holiday, isn’t it, Lea? The best ones I’ve had are when I’ve had no expectations. Of course — yours were set pretty high with Fred and Ginger as the bar!
Ed and I have been to the Saint-Amour and loved it. Thanks for reminding me of a very special and classy restaurant.
Bonne Annee m’amie!
Clearly, I am a hopeless romantic! And I’ve had some quite satisfactory New Year’s Eve sitting cozily at home. But, still, there are dreams! And I haven’t given up believing in every lifetime, some of them should come true.
Oh my goodness, that sounds wonderful. Must put the Saint-Amour on the bucket list.
Happy New Year to all!
This post brought tears to my eyes, and yes it was magical. You couldn’t plan it. It was a perfect confluence of weather, setting, food, wine, service, light and delight in one another. The universe was aligned with us that night.
It just goes to show that good things are worth waiting for.
This year, we’re having a pot luck dinner with good friends, exchanging gifts for each others kids, and then settling down to what promises to be a ferocious game of Monopoly. I’ve always found simple expectations and homely pleasures work best for New Year’s Eve – but I’m going to keep my eyes open for an opportunity to experience some magic one of these years!
We’ve been having the same group of friends for New Year’s Eve so long that children have been born, grown up, and are now married. It’s such a comfortable tradition that I have no interest in changing it. But it’s fun to read about how others celebrate.
Lea, that was just lovely. Magical! You’ve painted a picture I won’t forget…thank you.
Some of my own best New Year’s Eves have been spent working in hospitals, oddly enough. Other holidays, too, with co-workers and strangers, some in very difficult circumstances. I’ve had my share of Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, as well as New Year’s feasts, in hospital cafeterias! And the wonderful thing about it was finding out that even without one’s own friends and family present, the holiday spirit was just the same. Maybe even more so, since none of us was obliged to care in that way for one another at all — and yet we discovered that we did, so much.