New Year’s evolution

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(HOST) Willem Lange has been wondering lately what exactly New Year’s is supposed to be for.

(LANGE) New Year’s Eve has always seemed to me a manufactured sort of festivity. I suppose it’s an occasion to look back, and wish for more (or less) of the same in the coming year. Its excuse for celebration, however, is obscure. We could do it at the winter solstice; the beginning of the sun’s return is a true cause for rejoicing. But the calendar must be served.

Once in a while the date is an occasion for reflection. On New Year’s Eve of 1942 we were three weeks into the biggest war the world has ever known. My Uncle Alvin was already gone to war; there were German submarines off the New Jersey coast; and air raid sirens, rationing, and blackouts were on the way. There was a lot more praying than celebrating that year.

One New Year’s Eve after the war 1947, maybe I stepped into our snowy, moonlit front yard and serenaded the neighbors on my cornet with “Nearer My God, to Thee.” My evangelical impulses ran deep, but the neighbors were all Catholic, and I can only imagine their reactions.

Then I went away to school, to the relief of the neighbors. I was usually home for New Year’s. It became an excuse to party, get a smooch at midnight, and listen to Guy Lombardo play “Auld Lang Syne.” The smooch was great, but partying doesn’t come easy to a kid raised in the Dutch Reformed Church.

In college, I spent winter vacations camping with outing clubs. New Year’s Eve was either a hot, sweaty evening of square dances and polkas, with a midnight smooch from a very husky girl; or, if there was a moon, a night climb. Twelve of us spent one absolutely perfect New Year’s on top of Mount Marcy in New York State, snuggled in sleeping bags under a surplus parachute tent, our feet toward the center and our bodies like the cylinders of an old-fashioned radial aircraft engine. Our heads stuck out around the outside of the tent.

When Mother and I were married, we were too poor to party, but we got out during the evening for a short beer and dancing on somebody else’s nickels. A twelve-o’clock smooch and hug, and back to the apartment, wondering why we’d bothered.

We built our first house in the summer of 1964. We couldn’t finish the floors, so we just varnished the shiplap boards and had square dances in the family room on New Year’s.

We’ve abandoned the illusion that New Year’s is something we have to do: that it’s important to stay up till midnight, smooch, and wish each other a happy new year. Then we discovered First Night celebrations family evenings with entertainers and fireworks at midnight and I discovered they’re always looking for storytellers. So now we work: eat supper somewhere, tell some stories, and usually get home before midnight. The smooch is still there, ah – it comes earlier these days.

This is Willem Lange up in Orford, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

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