For the greater part of my life, I have legitimately avoided the pressure of New Year's Eve.
It's one of the days of the year that I came to dread when I was in my 20s because there was such pressure to do something "fun" - which meant, usually, some elaborate dress-up party or dinner with a show or concert. And you have to find the 'perfect' place to be at midnight, and, of course, the perfect person to be with.
I can remember one New Year's Eve in downtown Atlanta with a girl I was dating at the time. I don't remember what we'd done that night, but I remember we were going to try to be on Margaret Mitchell Square, at the intersection of Peachtree and Pryor streets, in front of the big round Coca-Cola sign that was a landmark in Atlanta for so long (until Georgia Pacific bought the building that used to be the Loew's Theatre - where Gone With The Wind premiered - and tore it down to build its corporate headquarters. However, GP insisted it be given a Peachtree Street address, requiring the city to fill in Pryor Street, and then insisted the Coca-Cola sign come down, because Georgia Pacific didn't want its corporate headquarters to be over-shadowed by another corporate logo. Can you tell I'm still bitter about that, even after all these years?)
Anyway, we were on Peachtree Street at midnight, but what I remember most was afterward we walked back through the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and I swear the lobby floor was an inch deep in alcohol. I'd never seen anything like it. We were literally splashing through the lobby. I have no idea what went on in the lobby of the Hyatt that night, but I think it was wilder than whatever happened on Peachtree.
Another time I was in New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl, and was in this old jazz bar on Bourbon Street. I wanted to be outside on Bourbon Street for midnight, but it was so packed that I wound up crossing over into the New Year wedged in the doorway of the bar (I think it was called something like the "Horseshoe Lounge;" it isn't there anymore). Such was the crush of humanity that I could neither go out into the street, nor back into the bar.
For most of my adult life, I've been on the road for New Year's Eve covering some college football bowl game. If the game I was covering wasn't actually being played on New Year's Eve, the bowl game usually had a party planned for those of us in the media. I remember I was at the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve 1999 for the Y2K scare, at a Gloria Estefan concert - although actually I think I was back in the hospitality suite on the top floor of whatever hotel I was staying at when midnight actually rolled around.
In those days, I spent an awful lot of those kind of moments with sportswriters and sports information directors. (Someday I should recount spending Christmas Eve in the bar in the lobby of this big old classic hotel in El Paso with - of course - a bunch of sportswriters.)
Yes, I missed seeing quite a few New Year's roll in with The Trophy Wife (the 'perfect person' mentioned above). She would go to parties and I would be where ever I was, but we'd always try to make sure we were on the phone with each other at midnight of the time zone she was in.
But I can't say I missed the pressure of having to figure out what to do on those nights.
Interesting (at least to me) is the fact that I spent the first 18 or 19 New Year's Eve of my life in the same place: church.
We had what we Southern Baptists called "Watch Night" services. I think the idea was that if The Lord should decide to come back either in the final minutes of the old year or the first few minutes of the new, He'd find a bunch of us waiting for Him in church.
I don't remember much about those services. I think they probably started later than a normal evening service. But what I do remember is that at the end of the service - I think after we'd share Communion (or "The Lord's Supper" as we called it) - is that everyone would get up from their seats and circle the sanctuary/auditorium and join hands. Often, it seems like we'd be two or three or four deep around the church, the "Body" unified.
And while much of the rest of the world sang "Auld Lang Syne," we'd sing "Blest Be The Tie That Binds."
There are certain things about the church I grew up in that will stick with me forever. Not all of them are good - this was the late 1960s-early 1970s after all, and there were issues between the generations (see here).
But there was much good.
For example, I can't see a baptism without hearing "Brother Paul" Van Gorder saying, "Buried in the likeness of His death; raised in the likeness of His resurrection; to walk in newness of life" - particularly because for the longest time when I was a child I thought the last line was "to walk into the supply room." I love that phrase (the real one, not the supply room one), and still repeat it mentally at every baptism I see.
Another is that ending to the Watch Night Service, the way we sang in the New Year. Perhaps it is age, perhaps it is nostalgia, perhaps - probably - it's both. But I miss the church gathered round in a huge circle, joining hands, and welcoming in the New Year with the words:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father's throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.
We share each other's woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
You know, now that I think about it, we might actually have gathered and sang "How Great Thou Art." We sang that song a lot.
It has been a long time. Both are great songs. Maybe we sang them both.
But for tonight, this is my story and I'm sticking to it.
Happy New Year!