What day is the loneliest day of your year?
For some, it is Christmas Day. For others, it is Mother’s or Father’s Day, or perhaps their birthday. For yet others, it is a date that seems entirely innocuous to the rest of us but is hugely significant for them.
For me, it's none of the above. For me, it’s New Year’s Eve.
It wasn’t always that way. For many years I found December 31st to be exciting. It symbolised movement and progress, optimism and new beginnings. When Christmas was done and dusted for another year, we still had NYE to look forward to. It also didn’t hurt that down here in Australia, the weather is warm, the sun is (typically) shining, and the beaches are crowded. Sure, New York might have a ball that drops in Time Square. London might have a chiming Big Ben. But here in Sydney we have the harbour and its bridge. We have the Opera House and (let’s just all admit it) the very best NYE fireworks show in the world.
What’s not to love?
What could there possibly be for me to not love about NYE? I can imagine my younger self asking that very question, with no small degree of incredulity.
But what young Dani didn’t realise is that each NYE doesn’t just mark a new year. It marks the inexorable passing of the years. She didn’t know that as those years pass, the marking of their passing becomes less reason for excitement, and more a daunting reality. She didn’t know there comes a time when the dynamic hope of progress gives way to the realisation that change isn’t always possible, let alone good. She didn’t know that there is a prime season for new beginnings, and that once that season has passed (often without those beginnings actually beginning), NYE becomes much more about what didn’t begin rather than what still yet could.
That all sounds rather morose! But it’s true, isn’t it? As we age, the less we see NYE as a night of exciting possibility and more just another night of the year with an added dash of ‘Gosh, where did that year go?’ and ‘So much for all those resolutions I made (yet again) last year?’, perhaps with ‘I’m already tired thinking about everything on the horizon for this year’ thrown in for good measure.
The older we get, the more we feel it. Now that my friends and I are out of our twenties (and yes, OK, also out of our thirties), the way most of them tend to deal with their ambivalence towards NYE is by having a low key BBQ at a nearby park, watching the 9 o’clock fireworks on TV with the kids before sending them off to bed and crawling under the covers themselves well before the clock chimes midnight.
Sometimes I, as a single person, am invited to join them for the BBQ and the fireworks viewing. And I love that. But then, usually around 10pm, I drive home, by myself. And I enter my flat, by myself. And I wonder whether I should stay up till midnight, by myself, so that I can obsess over all the changes that previous NYEs never rung in and all the new year beginnings that never happened… by myself.
I recently tweeted about how, as a single person, NYE has become my loneliest night of the year. Other singles responded:
‘Just reading this has made me cry. I had already been thinking about it in November.’
‘100%. As soon as my friends got engaged/married, they abandoned me on NYE.’
‘I hate it so much too. The anticipation and frenzy of “possibilities” really makes me feel weird.’
It's not so much that we’re desperate to recapture the exciting, celebratory, energetic NYEs of our youth. I’m far too old and tired and curmudgeonly for that! But as a never-married Christian woman who lives alone, NYE is typically the one night of the year that I fear being alone. It’s the one night of the year when sitting by myself on my couch becomes unbearably loaded with the emotional weight of what was, what could have been, what is and what isn’t. I don’t want to have to sit with that emotional weight all alone. I want to share it a little with others. I want them to share theirs a little with me. And then I want us to distract each other so that we don’t just keep sitting with that emotional weight. So that we can, indeed, welcome in the new year.
Shall we just cancel?
Shall we just cancel NYE then? Of course not! But there are a few things we could do to make it less lonely for ourselves and for those we love.
For those of us who are single and sad about NYE, can I encourage us to be proactive? Be vulnerable and help trusted loved ones to understand why it is a hard night for us, why we don’t want to be alone for it, why we love to spend it with them instead of by ourselves even if – perhaps especially if! – the celebratory plans aren’t big and exciting and energetic.
For those of you who are married, please be aware of how much emotional energy it can take for us singles to initiate the ‘Hey. So. I’m just wondering… what are you doing for NYE?’ conversation. The question might seem completely mundane to you. For us it can take a lot of courage to ask to be seen, to ask to be invited, to ask not to be left alone. You can love us by asking us the question, rather than waiting for us to ask it of you.
And for those for whom NYE brings home the passing of the years, the inexorable temporality of time, the fragility of our bodies, the sadness of suffering, let’s remember that we do, in fact, have confident reason to hope for new beginnings. In fact, in Christ, our new beginning has already begun! We are even now his new creations, destined together for eternal life with him in the incredible age to come. Let’s remind each other that in that place, at that time, we won’t lament the passing of the years. Rather we will rejoice together in their endless accumulation.