Holidays can be stressful and overwhelming on the whole, but I have always loved New Year’s Eve, especially getting ready to go out.
When I was a little girl, I would wear patterned party dresses and tights and patent leather Mary Janes and cream-colored pea coats. My long curly hair would be freshly washed, styled with a headband instead of the two braids I typically wore daily: think a mixed-girl Pippi Longstockings who stars in a 2001 Disney Channel Original Movie. Even then, New Year’s featured many of my favorite things: staying up until midnight or later, fireworks, guzzling cup after cup of Martinelli’s, and parties.
When I was nine, Y2K was fast approaching. I remember the hype and anxiety over the arrival of 2000. Would the clocks stop working? Would the world be different? How would I be able to keep losing gym battles in Pokemon Yellow if my transparent, purple GameBoy Color wouldn’t work because of the date changes? The actual countdown at a family friend’s house party was anticlimactic given that nothing visibly malfunctioned at midnight. My highlight of the evening was swerving around the basement den, dancing to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, feeling free, with plastic butterfly clips in my hair, sweating in black pleather pants and a three-quarter-length shirt, the scent of a new Bath and Body Works brown sugar lotion permeating from my body with every move.
As an out and proud college student, New Year’s evolved into a combination of expectations and hype. Who could I kiss at midnight? What parties or queer clubs would I go to? Would my fake ID work this time? Could I temper my desire to get beyond drunk with my need to stay in control? What would I wear? Would what I wear signal what I wanted it to? I often opted for a little black dress and those clunky Jessica Simpson heels that everyone in my sorority had, absolutely going overboard on glittery eyeshadow and NARS blush in the shade of “orgasm”. I wanted New Year’s to be elevated chaos and blissful euphoria—a delightful blur. This was, however hard I tried, not always achievable.
When the ball dropped on New Years Eve of 2014, I was twenty-three, newly graduated from college, and enamored with the queer and lesbian bar scene in San Francisco. I wanted to be known. I went to an acquaintance’s party in the Mission district, wearing a blue dress and a black blazer because business casual was the look for the club in that era. Once at the party, I swallowed a capsule of activated charcoal (in the hopes of minimizing my hangover…make it make sense!) with a flute of sparkling wine and then swooped from that rooftop on Guerrero Street to The Lexington Club—a dyke bar. At The Lexington Club, I was gifted too many Jameson gingers and smooched a friend while her bemused girlfriend watched.
Now, at thirty-three years old, I have survived my first New Year’s Eve in sobriety. Since getting sober, I have felt apprehensive about what I used to think of as “amateur drinking” holidays. Those holidays include New Year’s Day, St Paddy’s, Halloween, Fourth of July (which is also my birthday), the dreaded Santa Con, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and basically every bank holiday autofilled in my Google Calendar. These were considered “amateur” to me and my drinking buddies because people who didn’t binge normally were out and about taking up space being messy.
But now, nearly a year sober, I’m redefining celebration for myself. It has to take on a different tone for me. While I remain extroverted, still love queer nightlife, going out dancing, and attending gatherings with family and friends, I am also learning how to participate in those occasions without alcohol for the first time since childhood. As I recalibrate my relationship to holidays, it’s helpful to think back to those early days of New Year’s Eves when I was small. Back then, I was able to hold joy very close to myself and share it with the world around me. Those memories, when hangovers were a symptom of three bottles of Martinellis, are a reminder of how much freedom I can find in being present. The joy will come in varied ways this year, like getting glammed up and ready for the night out, because getting ready was always the best part, full of potential and possibilities and excitement for the night ahead. I hope to carry that attitude of optimism forward into this coming year and am excited to wake up fresh, sober, and grateful in 2024.