Until I was a teenager, I had little interest in large social gatherings featuring other people, with one exception — the all-night New Year’s Eve skating party in town. This happened every year at the local rink, and I was never allowed to go. In the revisionist history in my head, everyone I knew was going to this party, and it made their New Year’s Eve, and the year that ensued, charmed. I, on the other hand, staying home and watching the ball drop with my mother, felt as though I was missing out on a pivotal experience.
I’ve always found the moment when the ball drops always manages to be both painful and unremarkable, fueled by adrenaline and dread. And when it was over, I was still the same person, standing in someone’s living room or in my kitchen. If I stop to consider it, a lot of the hype back then was about boys — if I was with one, who he was, who he wasn’t, and who I was because of him. In spite of being a black sheep of sorts, I still desperately wanted to fit in, even if I didn’t really know what that meant.
When I got older, I spent a lot of New Year’s Eves with my friends being drunk or kissing boys I would never kiss again — sometimes, not even noticing when the ball dropped. I developed a political consciousness, and I started putting things together, about race and class and religion, and who I wanted to be. I realized that I was surrounded by a lot of things that had nothing to do with me, but they still made up a great deal of who I was.
When you’re a kid, you take in everything. There’s very little sorting, what’s around you is reality, even if it’s distorted or terrible. Intellectualize it, and December 31 seems a mere byproduct of living in a Christian culture. (After all, our New Year is in the fall, right?) What I once wanted, to be with everyone else at a skating rink, was the result of being absorbed by the fabric of a world that, as an American Jew, I’m only sort of part of in the first place.
Knowing this doesn’t actually make dealing with it easier. I live in Manhattan, after all, the sight of the Big Huge Deal, and even though I’d like to believe that the fact that I’ve thought about assimilation and read plenty about American Judaism, I will somehow be free from the pressure, I’m still feeling stressed and a bit melancholy in advance of Friday night. But don’t worry, I have a plan. It involves Jewish movies — but not Woody Allen.