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Why New Year’s Eve Is the Worst

And why Rosh Hashanah is a better new year’s celebration

Marjorie Ingall
December 31, 2018
Illustration: Tablet Magazine
Illustration: Tablet Magazine
Illustration: Tablet Magazine
Illustration: Tablet Magazine

Look, New Year’s Eve sucks. You know it, I know it. It’s all anticipation, no follow-through. It’s invariably a disappointment.

You know what’s better than New Year’s Eve? Rosh Hashanah. Come with me, won’t you, on a journey of year-end musing!

Here is why I (and perhaps you) hate New Year’s Eve: You’re supposed to get dressed up all fancy (it is fun to be fancy sometimes—but it is not fun to feel pressure to be fancy) and go to a schmancy place that is invariably packed with unpleasant people. You are supposed to drink too much, which generally makes unpleasant people even more unpleasant and causes the streets of my neighborhood to run beige with vomit. There is a reason New Year’s Eve is known as Amateur Night. New Year’s Eve is expensive. Restaurants have prix fixe menus I do not want. Lyft prices skyrocket. Babysitters have cartoon-character dollar signs in their eyes.

And you’re supposed to have the Best! Time! Ever! New Year’s Eve is when everything wonderful is supposed to start! (It’s the only secular holiday that officially begins the night before, with an erev, the way every holiday on the Jewish calendar does. Yes, Christmas does, too, but that’s not a secular holiday.) New Year’s Day is about being schlumpy and hungover and lying on the couch in thick socks, or waking up with a stranger and regrets, but New Year’s Eve is all manic joy and possibility.

And it is a lie. New Year’s Eve is like the wedding that concludes classic Shakespearean comedies and entirely too many rom-coms. That’s it! Whoo! Achievement unlocked! There’s no real-world looking ahead to the challenges of, y’know, marriage. New Year’s Eve is all glorious and gleaming surface, no difficult reality. So many formative movies feature love blooming on this special, special night. There’s When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Apartment, Bundle of Joy (yeah, look how well marrying New Year’s Eve co-star Eddie Fisher wound up for Debbie Reynolds!), Waiting to Exhale, and An Affair to Remember (ruining people’s real-life New Years since 1957!).

I hear you saying, “This writer is old and bitter!” You are correct. To me, New Year’s Eve feels like a holiday for 20-somethings, for feet that do not hurt in high heels and for making out with someone new under a glittery disco ball. Look, I like being married and having children. But I do not like feeling that the culture is passing me by, that I am in an undesirable marketing demographic, that I am insufficiently fun, or worst of all, that I’m desperate to have fun and therefore mockable. Fun has to be organic. It is like being skinny: It’s just supposed to happen; you can’t be seen as obsessing about it; you have to achieve it while making it look effortless; but if you fail at it you are a loser. Wear a big “L” atop your blowout as a party accessory. The New Year’s Baby can be fun and fat and happy (and minimally dressed) but he’s the only one.

New Year’s Eve feels like it’s about newness. And I am not new. My marriage is not new. The love is deep, but it is not new. And annoyingly, even now, New Year’s Eve still feels like a source of pressure! We’re still supposed to do something! So I’m not Charlotte in Sex and the City wailing, “I’ve been dating since I was 15! I’m exhausted! Where is he?” but even though I’m coupled, the mandatory-fun pressure has not gone away.

My husband and I had some nice post-kid New Year’s Eves when we invited other newly kidded people over to watch the ball drop on TV while the kids ran around manic on cheddar Goldfish and then collapsed in a puppy pile. There was that one lovely New Year’s Eve when we went to friends in the country, let the kids sled until they were exhausted and passed out, then toasted each other at midnight in a hot tub with champagne in the starry night.

But now our kids are teenagers, old enough to want to not hang with our friends and our friends’ kids. Older kid will presumably go to a party; younger kid will happily watch Adventure Time reruns and eat tiny Snickers bars. (Wait, that sounds totally fun.) Fortunately, we have an actual plan this year: Newly moved-to-Brooklyn friends are having a combo housewarming and New Year’s Eve party, and the invite said, “come if you can, for as long as you’d like, in your pajamas, even, if that’s your thing.” OMG THAT’S MY THING.

Look, whether you are 20 or 50 and single or married or kid-free or kidded, you may be totally content to opt out and fall asleep at 9:30 p.m. If so, perhaps you are reading this and musing, “Why am I reading this? Who is this chaleria?” Mazel tov to you; you are more evolved than I.

Me, I much prefer Rosh Hashanah. I am not a very religiously observant person, but Rosh Hashanah feels like a better take on welcoming a New Year. First off, it reminds us how cyclical time is. It’s all about repetition—the same melodies, the same prayers, the same faces (mostly, and God willing, and baruch dayan emet). You may get a new outfit, but it doesn’t come laden with all the semiotics of a New Year’s Eve outfit. You don’t have to have the Best! Time! Ever! while wearing it; you just have to be able to sit and stand repeatedly and hopefully look good enough to not frighten the horses. The resolutions we make on Rosh Hashanah tend to be about others rather than about ourselves. Instead of swearing, yet again, to join a gym or quit smoking, we ponder how to be better humans. We apologize to those we’ve wronged in advance of Yom Kippur. We may not have a traditional conception of God—honestly, I have no idea what God is—but we can ponder the Avinu Malkeinu prayer (which traditional congregations translate as “Our Father, Our King” and liberal ones translate as “Our Creator, Our Sovereign,” and which neither generally performs like this), acknowledging our mistakes and sins over the past year, asking for the ability to repent and do better, pleading for a safer and better world and redemption and sustenance and strength and blessings and to be inscribed in the Book of Life. That’s pretty deep. (And unlike New Year’s resolutions, it’s written in “we” language rather than “I” language.) We read about the birth of Isaac and the banishment of Hagar (a parsha that certainly puts one’s relationship issues and parenting issues in perspective) and if we’re able, we go to a body of water, with our community, and symbolically throw our sins away in the form of bread crumbs. It’s fun! People often bring dogs! We get to ponder nature and see ducks.

And the Unetanah Tokef prayer does not mess around. It reminds us about what is elemental in each journey around the sun. You probably know the Leonard Cohen version, but the traditional one, in translation, goes:

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die …
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low …
But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.

Lest you get wrapped up in stupid anxieties about, I don’t know, what to do on New Year’s Eve, or how it is possible to have wrinkles and zits simultaneously, or whether you’ve squandered your early career promise, this prayer will slap you upside the head. “A person’s origin is dust and their end is dust,” it tells you, uninterested in your bullshit. “A person earns bread by exertion. A person is like a broken shard, like dry grass, like a withered flower, like a passing shadow and a vanishing cloud, like a breeze that blows away, like a dream that flies away. But You are Adonai: God who lives for all eternity.”

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.