Why Is This New Year’s Eve Different?

It started about two weeks ago — the instant messages while I was at work, asking me about my New Year’s Eve plans and the incessant text messages, sending my phone into a vibrating jig while I made the rounds at holiday parties. I was shocked at the extent to which the simple question, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” made my blood boil. I thought that this year I had the perfect excuse to avoid getting fussed up, drunk and spending money: Shabbat.

Now, I don’t mean to be the grinch of New Year’s. However, the holiday presents peer-pressure at its extreme. Almost every single conversation with friends in the last few weeks has included the words “I hate New Year’s.” One friend explained, “I can drink any other weekend”; another one asked Mah nishtanah halyla hazeh? Why is this night different from all other nights?

This year, New Year’s Eve falls on Friday night, the night usually reserved for festivities of a different sort, and more thoughtful conversation. Add a little champagne to the scenario, and it sounds like the perfect start to 2011 (especially when compared to finding myself miles away from home in hard-to-walk-in heels). Observing Shabbat will preclude me from going too far, spending money or using electronics.

The last Friday Night New Year’s I vividly recall placed me in Israel for my cousin’s bar mitzvah and asleep before midnight, at the turn of the millennium (when the world was supposed to end — or was it just that our computers were going to crash?)

Now an adult, I’ve been wondering how the restrictions of Shabbat would affect my New Year’s plans, and those of my fellow Shabbat-observant peers? One group of friends decided to vacate New York City, the epicenter of New Year’s “excitement” to go to the Hamptons for a nice shabbasdik weekend — complete with a fabrengen to commemorate the anniversary of the death of R’Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a.k.a. the Ba’al HaTanya, the founder of Chabad Hasidim. Meanwhile, another friend cancelled her Shabbat dinner altogether, because she felt pressure to make it double as a New Year’s party.

But I have heard of some serious attempts to merge Shabbat and New Year’s. One acquaintance plans to trek across Central Park after sunset to attend a New Year’s soiree. The densely Jewish populated Upper West Side will witness many a New Year’s themed-Shabbat dinner and apartment parties sans music. And worst case scenario, there’s always the so-called Jew Year’s Eve Bash on Saturday night, to compensate for the lack of being able to attend a “real party” on Friday night.

Tomorrow night, I’ll probably be on the Upper West Side, lamenting that I have to walk to parties on the snow-covered streets — yup, in those impractical heels.

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