The English do not like celebrating New Year. They know they do it badly but don’t look around for alternatives. They’re not terribly interested, as a culture, of learning from abroad anymore. Despite enjoying a German Christmas, an Amercian Haloween and a Chocolate Easter, the English cling onto their rather tedious method of celebrating New Year. Essentially they get steadily drunk in the last hours of the Old Year, fret about what the New Year will bring and wait for an infinitessimally small moment to come rushing by them, whereupon they hug everyone without knowing why. After the initial round of hugging has ended, nowadays the awkward silence is filled with mobile telephone ringtones. With the New Year thus begun, the party continues but for most people it is already over. The ritual pleasanteries have been dispensed with. Most folk just want to fall asleep so that they can be well rested before the grim business of January.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The second half of the twentieth century saw the English quietly adopt one or two Scottish traditions, as if the tinsle is Christmas itself. Occasionally an attention seeker south of the border will wear a kilt, without anyone knowing why. More commonly, there’s the pretence of singing Auld Lang Syne and the pretence of drinking whiskey. For some inexplicable reason, the English put ice in their whiskey, as if it wasn’t cold enough outside already. The point that the Scots make at New Year is completely lost on the English. They adopt the tradition without the meaning.
The trick to enjoying New Year Celebrations, as the Scots do, is not to trouble yourself with them at all. Do not celebrate the New Year but instead the passing of the Old Year! The tradition of giving your home a really thorough clean on 31st December is probably observed more in the breach these days but the point is well understood. Cleaning at the old year marks the beginning of the celebration.
Whichever kind of year you’ve had, good or bad, you can join with others to celebrate its passing. Everyone is equal as the year slips away. In its last few hours, you do not need undertake a clumsy vigil for the midnight hour. You can enjoy those hours for what they really are: precious hours in good company.
I’ll be hosting a Hogmanay party this year for a small group of friends with whom I often see out the old year. We’ve been evolving our own traditions: everyone will arrive wearing a homemade hat, we’ll eat, drink and play games. We’re all looking forward to the end of year quiz. Some of us will declare purposeful New Year resolutions which will cause some merriment. Simple fun in a small gathering to mark the end of another cycle.