This column was originally published December 30, 2002. The Old Year is about to pass from us, and Etiquetteer, chilling champagne and starching a shirtfront, feels compelled to share a few thoughts and instructions for New Year’s Eve, the most universal and accessible holiday of all.
Poor dear depressed Oscar Levant once said “Scratch the fake tinsel of Hollywood and you’ll find the real tinsel underneath.” Sadly, Etiquetteer knows many people who feel just that way about New Year’s Eve. A much-maligned occasion, many people dismiss it as a manufactured holiday meaning nothing and falsely glamorous. In a world that reveres Britney Spears, Abercrombie & Fitch, and game shows like “Russian Roulette,” Etiquetteer will take his glamour where he can find it, thank you very much!
Besides, New Year’s Eve is the one holiday that everyone on earth can celebrate together. All races, colors, creeds, and orientations use the same calendar to function in daily life, so why not bring us all together for a global occasion?! Etiquetteer thinks New Year’s Eve has the capacity to create world peace.
New York City has given the world the two most enduring versions of how New Year’s Eve is celebrated. While Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians syncopate in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for elegantly dressed and coiffed high society types swirling through a blaze of streamers, confetti, party hats and tiaras, the excitable masses squeeze themselves into Times Square, shrieking and waving at television cameras until the ball drops. Rowdiness is not unknown in either location -- Etiquetteer knows of one lady, now quite elderly, who lost her shoes one New Year’s Eve in Times Square, so compressed by the crowd was she -- and for many that enhances their enjoyment. Etiquetteer can only go figure.
But Etiquetteer will not hold you to the standard of Gotham, however glamorous it may be, to celebrate this Occasion. Make your own glamour in your own Perfectly Proper way! Whether you are gathered around the dinner table, concert stage, hot tub, pulpit, coffee maker, hookah, or piano, spend this holiday with people you care for deeply. More than all the tenacious gift-giving of Christmas, tonight is a night to remind the people you love how special they’ve been to you in the past year. Which, if you pay attention, is what the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” are all about. That’s why it’s sung at midnight.
And you had best stay up until midnight to sing it! Etiquetteer doesn’t care if you go to bed at exactly 12:00:30, but the point of New Year’s Eve is participating at the exact second the Old Year passes. Ringing in the New Year at 7:00 PM just because it's midnight somewhere in the world doesn't cut it; if it's not midnight where you are, it just isn't midnight.
And please, dress appropriately. If you're cavorting with the rabble in Times Square, combat gear will protect your person from the weather and God knows what else. Otherwise, believe it or not, black tie is not required - check with your hostess first.
That said, Etiquetteer dearly wants you to break out a tiara for the evening whatever you’re wearing (even if it’s nothing at all in the hot tub). “I do not pretend to understand,” says Uncle Paxton in Clemence Dane’s delightful novel The Flower Girls, “why tiaras should make so much difference to my enjoyment of the evening, but they did. Certain objects are romantic on their own account. A tiara is one of them.” Whether you rush to the vault for the diamonds or the drugstore for the foil-coated cardboard, tonight is the night for this un-American but oh-so-much-fun accessory.
And now, should auld acquaintance be forgot, Etiquetteer fondly and sincerely wishes you a New Year of Peace, Prosperity, and Perfect Propriety.