As the new year approaches, we all have a tendency to look forward or to look back. Those who look forward often draw up a list of resolutions to make their lives better: commitments to eat better, to exercise, to travel, and to be more disciplined in other areas of life. Meanwhile, those who look back sometimes reflect on their accomplishments or their new experiences; Christmas letters, for example, are full of stories about trips or graduations or new additions to the family. In this essay, I, too, have decided to look back but not just one year back. I have looked back at all my New Year’s Eves, all 68 of them, so I could come up with a list of my top five most memorable.
5. New Year’s Eve 1999. Do you remember Y2K and the concern leading up to it? We all worried that computers worldwide would crash and that, as a result, our electrical systems would also shut down and leave us all in complete darkness. Consequently, Barbara and I decided that we would stay at home that night with Maria (then 14) and Katrina (11) just in case something drastic happened. We ate dinner, we played Scrabble, we watched on television as other countries to our east celebrated their new years without problems, and we realized we’d be okay too. Then, we watched a movie together and ate junk food and dessert before we finally saw the ball drop in Times Square at midnight. The whole evening was pleasantly peaceful and a sweet reminder that simple times with our immediate family are so wonderful and precious.
4. New Year’s Eve 1995. Just four years earlier, we decided to venture out for a first-night celebration in nearby Albany, New York. At the time, the city-wide, first-night experience was a relatively new concept in our immediate area, so we decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, December 31st of that year was brutally cold and windy. Nonetheless, we embarked on our journey, and one of the first things we did was eat free ice cream provided by Ben and Jerry’s in an outdoor park. “Are we crazy?” We asked ourselves, and Maria (then 10) and Katrina (7) both agreed that, yes, we were crazy, but the experience was fun too. As we walked the streets that night, we listened to lots of live music, and we ducked inside at times to watch other entertainers and to warm up a bit.
By 11:00 p.m., though, my three fellow travelers were cold and tired and ready to go home. “No,” I said dramatically. “We have to stay out until midnight, so we can see the fireworks.” Barbara tried to talk some sense into me, but I was determined to complete our first-night adventure. “We’re all just cold and hungry,” I reasoned. “Let’s get some pizza frites, and we’ll all feel better.” And sure enough, those warm portions of fried dough covered in sugar did the trick. We survived the last hour on the streets, and we watched the fireworks explode over the Hudson River just before we headed off to the warmth and safety of our home.
3. New Year’s Eve 1994. When couples first have children, the parents of those children have to gradually figure out how to share their family visits during the holidays, so both sets of grandparents can see the grandchildren. When Barbara and I raised our girls, we were fortunate enough to spend Christmas Day with her family and get together with my family on the following Saturday. Typically, we’d arrive at my parents’ place in Amsterdam during the late afternoon, share a meal together, open presents, and play with the kids until 10:00 or 10:30 before heading home. In 1994, however, the Saturday after Christmas also happened to be New Year’s Eve, a combination that only occurs every five to ten years depending on the leap year. So, on that particular day, instead of leaving Grandma and Grandpa’s house at a reasonable hour, we all stayed until midnight and then some. It was a wonderful mad house with eleven adults and nine grandchildren between the ages of five and fourteen. We sang songs and played games, and we ate lots of desserts, sweets that no doubt added to the energy and excitement in the room when we later opened presents and counted down the final seconds of 1994.
2. New Year’s Eve 2007. By the time Maria and Katrina were both in college, they no longer wanted to spend New Year’s Eve with Mom and Dad, so we invited five other couples in a similar situation over for the evening. In our townhouse, twelve people is a real crowd, but we all squeezed in and had a good time. We shared hors d’oeuvres, ate a pot-luck dinner, and devoured lots of cookies, cakes, and pies afterwards and even played a few trivia games. Beforehand, Barbara wasn’t sure if all those old timers would actually stay awake until midnight, but they all made it until 2008 arrived, and no one fell asleep ahead of time.
1. New Year’s Eve 1983. Barbara and I met in June of 1983, and by the end of that summer, I knew I wanted to marry her. Rather than propose to her on Christmas, though, as many people have done, I decided I wanted to wait until the new year to officially begin our life together. So, on New Year’s Eve, we attended a small house party with friends from our church, and after midnight, we left and returned to Barbara’s apartment. There, I asked her a short series of questions:
Will you be with me in 1984?
Will you be with me forever?
Will you marry me?
Will you wear this ring?
Amazingly, she answered “Yes” to each of those questions, thus making that evening my most memorable New Year’s Eve ever.
So, do Barbara and I have any plans for New Year’s Eve 2019? No, nothing definite yet. We tend to be last-minute planners, so maybe we’ll invite some friends over, or maybe we’ll go out with friends for dinner and a movie. Whatever we do, I hope and pray that we all enjoy the evening as we look backward with a grateful heart for all the blessings we’ve received through the years and look forward with optimism and hope for the new year — 2020.