New Year's Eve is a holiday the puts a gun to your head. First you have to have a date. Then you have to get dressed up. Then you have to have fun. And then you have to stay up until midnight.
When I was in college I didn't fully realize what a drag of a holiday it was. All I knew was that having a date was very important, so important that some people went so far as to get married to solve the problem permanently.
Now that I'm married, it turns out find a date was easy compared to figuring out what to do. This year, due to the millennium, the problem of what to do was exactly a thousand times worse. What, short of throwing myself into an active volcano, would have been an adequate response?
It's not as if there weren't thousands of amazing celebrations and destinations to choose among. I could have partied in the Millennial Dome in Greenwich, England or on the bridges of Paris. There was a drumming festival in Taos and a 24-hour chanting session in Cape Town, South Africa.
I could have been among the estimated million people in Times Square watching a crystal ball slide down a 77-foot flag pole. Or I could have gone to Egypt. I could have seen laser lights bounce off an especially constructed gold-encased capstone set atop the pyramid of Cheops, all the while listening to a new opera commissioned especially for the occasion. Or, I could have sailed to Tonga on the international dateline and been the first in the world to greet the new millennium. I could have done all these things and many more that travel agents on drugs had dreamed up. But I stayed home.
Now that the second millennium is over, I wonder...how did people celebrate the first? Did the Knights of the Round Table wear paper hats? Did anyone lower a ball? Did Joan of Arc have a date? History doesn't tell us.
I did learn that Leif Ericson was discovering Nova Scotia in 1000 A.D. and that King Macbeth, who was a real person, was probably born that year and therefore may have been attending his own bris. But what about everybody else?
The religiously inclined let their crops rot and then gathered together on a mountain top to wait for the end of the world. Pagans, on the other hand, had a very big Y1K problem: evil spirits. Millennial people were not concerned about planes falling from the sky or not being able to use their ATM cards. They were worried that unless they warded off the evil spirits with a really impressive celebration, the coming year would be plagued by pestilence and famine.
In Ecuador, the superstitious would burn a straw man at midnight. In Scotland they welcomed the New Year by climbing inside a cow's hide and running around every house in the village three times. Hey, they'd been doing it for years, and so far the world hadn't ended.
In South East Asia they whooped it up by tossing bowls of cold water over one another. Romans preferred a rambunctious "throw your bric-a-brac out the window" party.
Or you could have sex. This was a popular pagan party choice, particularly in agricultural societies who believed that men and women must set a good example for the crops by copulating in the fields, thereby insuring a good harvest in the New Year. It was one's civic duty.
I just came upon the results of a nationwide newspaper poll that asked people what they did New Year's Eve. The results were surprising. Only 28 percent went out to celebrate. Seventy-two percent stayed home. Of those 72 percent who stayed home, 20 percent confided to the pollsters that they had celebrated the New Year by participating in a traditional millennial fertility rite.
Now why didn't I think of that?
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