Growing up, New Year’s Eve was probably my second favorite holiday, right behind Christmas. If you count the day we set by our clocks each fall, New Year’s Eve is right behind it.
Each year on New Year’s Eve, we’d gather at my great-aunt’s home, and my siblings and I retreated to the basement with our cousins for a long night of Yahtzee and Spoons. For those five hours of celebration, we only trekked upstairs to refill our plates with fancy Christmas cookies, shrimp cocktail and party mix.
Meanwhile, my grandparents, parents and great aunts and uncles lingered upstairs enjoying conversation and Scrabble. At midnight, we’d don our winter coats and glittery “New Year’s” tiaras to brave the cold and enjoy fireworks.
As the years went by, the faces at that family New Year’s Eve party changed. Sadly, great aunts and uncles passed away or became too physically fragile to go out in the cold December winter. The generation of great-grandchildren, comprising my cousins and me, went off to college or moved away to follow jobs and spouses, and weren’t able to come back for New Year’s.
New Year’s Eve has always evoked nostalgia, more than any other day of the year. Perhaps it’s because it is the day that we tend to put behind one year and start another. It’s a time to put behind all of the sadness and failures of the past year and look with a clean slate to the new year.
Krystine Batcho, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Le Moyne College in New York, commented in a 2016 interview for Healthline.com that when nostalgia is used in a healthy way, it can be like a crutch that grounds you in your past while you figure out how to move forward in a new situation.
Fast-forward 40 years. I’m now carrying a few more wrinkles, but our boisterous celebration of New Year’s has been reawakened. The location may change from year-to-year between the home of my parents, siblings and me, but we plan our evening around each other. Every once in a while, a relative comes up with a cockeyed plan to go away for New Year’s, but we are usually pretty good at putting the kibosh on that so we can all be together.
I have matured to now be one of the grown-ups playing Scrabble. Meanwhile, when my daughters aren’t playing Spoons, they sneak off upstairs with their cousins. I’ve since acquired an allergy to shrimp, but make up for it by devouring fancy Christmas cookies and party mix.
There is a certain comfort in knowing that as much as everything changes, it stays the same. When sisters, brother and I gather, we reminisce about the old New Year’s Eve parties at Aunt Gert’s. When we consider whether or not a word is acceptable for play in Scrabble, we ask ourselves how Grandma would call it. She forever will be the seraphic referee of our Scrabble game. Some of the recipes from our Grandma and her sister still make up our New Year’s Eve fare. We still enjoy a little bit of pyromania on New Year’s, but have since traded in our booming fireworks for Chinese lanterns.
It seems as though we’ve again settled into a New Year’s Eve routine. But, soon enough, my daughters will be experiencing the changes in our celebrations. My parents’ oldest grandchild will be graduating from college in the spring, and the next oldest grandchildren aren’t far behind him. Part of me wonders – and selfishly worries – where their lives will take them.
While my family is one for hanging on to old traditions, we have embraced the new when it comes to New Year’s Eve. My sister-in-law, who is from Cuba, introduced us to the “grapes” tradition. At the stroke of midnight, each person eats 12 grapes. Each grape represents one wish for each month of the new year. While the grapes are a new tradition for my generation, my daughters have always known it to be a staple of their New Year’s Eve celebration.
In keeping with tradition, no matter how cold it is, we’ll go outside for the countdown to midnight and yell “Happy New Year” as loud as we can. Maybe you’ll hear us.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at email@example.com.