Once upon a time — about 20 years ago — there was a house full of family and friends who came together to celebrate the New Year.
When I say family and friends, I mean family/friends in the 21st Century sense. We all chose our family. Some were related — some were friends of the kids — some were neighbors — some were people who needed a built family because the family they were born into was gone or absent — some were people who needed and wanted a bigger family — more people they could rely on. More people they could trust and care about absolutely.
So we chose each other. During the course of the last 20 years, some have died and left a big hole. Others are recent additions to the clan because they married in or opted in or were just pulled in with great bubbly enthusiasm. Some people only make it to New Year’s every few years in the flesh — but they phone-in or email-in from other countries, from Times Square, from wherever they are with their own blood family and their current job or school or situation.
Those of us who had young children, are now welcoming grandchildren and nieces and nephews and grand-friends. For an only child who had and only child and married and only child — I’ve been Auntie Lynn to more people than. I can count.
We don’t do a big black tie and sparkly dresses kind of party with champagne corks popping at midnight. We do jeans and comfy sweaters. We do home-brewed beer, odd bottles of wine, homemade apple cider — any of a dozen favorite drinks of the moment. We set a table that’s vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, low-fat, low carb, — whatever anybody needs that we know is coming. A table where anybody who shows up can eat. Dishes of olives. Plates of cut fruit. Scotch eggs. Buffalo wings. Fresh baked cookies. Cocoa and marshmallows. Bread and butter. Veggies and chips and dips and salsa. Big pots of soup. Baby back ribs. Mulled wine. Black-eyed peas for luck.
We play games. We read tarot cards. We watch favorite movies. We fill the floor with sleeping bags and stack up like cord-wood talking and giggling until all hours. We make ice cream floats. We build bonfires. We do fireworks at midnight. We go for long group walks in the dark. We play with the dogs and the babies. We catch up on everybody’s life. Some years there are 40-50 people in the same room. Some years there are a scant dozen — with people joining by phone/text/email from satellite locations.
The one thing we always do is the New Years Book.
It started as an old accountant’s ledger I bought at a flea market.
At the top of the first page, is the date of the first year we were all together, with double columns of everybody’s name who is present on site or by satellite.
Then there are 3 questions. The first 2 questions change each year, but the last question is always the same — YOU HAVE 3 WISHES FOR THE COMING YEAR. WHAT ARE YOUR 3 WISHES.
The first 2 questions change from year to year. Like:
- What’s the best thing a stranger did for you this year?
- What’s the best thing you did for a stranger this year?
- You have a name we all know you by. What’s your real name? What name does your spirit go by?
- What are the lines of poetry / lyrics that matter most to you and echo in your head through your life so far? The most important lines.
- Meliorism is the belief that I can change the world. That I can make a difference. I’m going to assume we are all meliorists. What’s the thing you do that changes the world?
- What’s the adjective that you want most to be used to describe you?
You get the idea.
One year, we opened up the book and had each person use a page over the course of the evening to draw a self-portrait.
Another year, we took photos of everyone there and inserted them into the book.
One year, we brought wooden dowels and paints and ribbon and glitter and all kinds of shells and tiny rock and bits of glass and everyone made themselves a magic wand and then had to describe what spell they would most like to be able to cast.
Some years there are silly questions. Some years they’re dead serious. But we ask the question and then go around the room, one by one, and answer. One of our kids made his 3 wishes for sex, drugs, and rock & roll for over decade. Then one day, after he was grown and out in the world, his wishes changed to match him.
Almost everybody makes some pretty serious wishes from time to time — and amazingly, when we go back and read 20 years of responses in the New Years Book — we find that a lot of our wishes have come to pass. Others have faded as we grew older and became different people. Other’s are just interesting markers of time and experiences.
Our youngest contributor was just over a year old — and her sweet answers are there. Next year, we’ll have another 1-year-old.
This year, I turned the question-making over to that first toddler who is now (no!) 20 years old and recovering from a year and a half of tackling a serious disease. Here are her questions for the family for New Years Eve, Dec. 31, 2010:
Last year, we all set the pieces for our paths ahead: James for med school, Patrice & Stephen planned to have a baby, etc………This year, we have watched the pieces fall into place from those decisions.1) Last year (2010), what words (or feelings, or images) did you repeat to yourself to get you through your decisions? What was your mantra?2) What is your mantra this year (2011)? Has it changed? If so, how do you think that change will influence the decisions you will make in 2011?Question 2
What one thing will you do this year for yourself or someone else? How will that decision affect you or those around you?Three Wishes for 2011
Feel free to answer. It’s a big book. And it’s a movable feast.