A German friend told me that in Germany they have a New Year’s Eve tradition of burning some metal, then dropping it into water and scrutinizing its shape for portents of the year to come. She said that in Spain it’s traditional on New Year’s Eve to eat 12 grapes. ‘Do you have a New Year’s Eve tradition in Australia?’ she asked. ‘Apart from getting as drunk as possible?’ I asked. ‘No, I don’t think so. Sometimes you’ll get people singing “Auld Lang Syne” but not everyone knows the words.’ Should auld acquaintance be forgot…and the lyrics to this song. As I made my way home from a party in the wee hours of the morning, I saw the Australian New Year’s Eve tradition was in safe hands: a man reeling from one side of the footpath to the other, stopping to cling vacant-eyed to a fence, trying to shrug off his triple vision. Close to my place, a taxi was stopped in the middle of the road, one bare-chested passenger was out of the taxi, wobbling to who knows where, while another aggressively directed traffic to go around the cab: ‘There’s been a f…..g accident, you moron!’ he shouted to one confused driver. Happy New Year! The day before, I’d been debating with my friend, a New Year’s Eve sceptic, about the merits of seeing New Year’s Eve as different from any other day. ‘I hate New Year’s Eve’, she said. ‘I hate all the hype. Why do people get so worked up about it?’ German, or Spanish, Chinese, American or Latvian, it’s pretty much universal for people to get ‘worked up’ about New Year’s Eve, even if the starting point for the ‘new year’ varies from culture to culture. It serves a fine purpose, being able to draw a line between one year and the next. It feeds the hope that this year we can start afresh. Or in the words of songwriter Smog in ‘I’m New Here’, ‘No matter how far wrong you’ve gone, you can always turn around.’
I have to admit, I did a fair job of upholding the Australian New Year’s Eve tradition myself last night. So this morning when I thought about the people I’d met at a party and the conversations I’d had with them, the details were hazy. They’d all got tangled together like a ball of string in the miscellaneous drawer. ‘Christchurch earthquake… Year of the Rabbit…Wuthering Heights…the inflatable boy joke…skydiving…Saddam’s bodyguard having a bodyguard…90s music…where do I know you from?…Paul Kelly’s memoir…Breakfast at Tiffany’s…The Philadelphia Story…the worst earworm song of all time…generations…Adelaide…learning new languages…best Christmas ever…my Christmas Day accident (see previous post)…the oldest surviving word (apparently a Sumerian word which translates as “Ummm”).’ What I do recall vividly was the anticipation before midnight, when everyone’s conversations coalesced around The Time as measured in minutes and seconds; then the moment of release when one year became the next. The fireworks arcing into the sky above the city. And the rounds of kisses and hugs with the exchange of three words, repeated around the room like a cheery priest’s benediction. Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! As ancient as the Sumerian ‘ummm’, as new as 2011.
‘Turn around, turn around, turn around
And you may come full circle
And be new here again’.
Happy New Year!