As a kid, New Year’s Eve was just a strange thing I watched adults doing; some strange ritual of exuberance and doilies that descended into the sloshing of booze and haphazard indiscriminate kissing. I sat, impatiently waiting to break in my new diary. It was the pencil concealed in the spine; it did things to me.
Now, New Year’s Eve is that vaguely annoying import-laden mark in the social calendar when I can never quite decide what I want to do, and always end up being a bit disappointed. You can never do everything or see everyone, there’s not enough hours in the night, and you end up worrying that where you choose to spend your midnight is not what best defines your heart. Your friends are scattered and can’t be collected together in the same room. You love too many people. In thinking of all the people you won’t see, all the things you won’t do, you have to just… let it go. Be where you are, and be there fully. You will never do your whole heart justice is such a short and silly night.
Perhaps we’re not supposed to truly enjoy ushering in a new year when we’re not sure we did all that we could with the old one. It’s like throwing out dead flowers. It never quite feels right; their buds had held such possibilities.
The best New Year’s Eve I ever spent was the first one I was allowed out alone with friends, chancing it under-aged to a pub, which ended up with me getting bundled into an old telephone box by five men who should have known better. Naturally I was wearing DMs so they paid for their lascivious joie de vivre. That night was a revel; it was freedom. Now I see it as the year I took the baton of my own time. After observing adults flick off the years like fluff from their sleeve, I was now counting my own years for myself. I never knew as I roared Wonderwall into a throng of madmen that some part of my brain was taking a snapshot of it for later. I never knew that, later, New Year’s Eve wasn’t as casual as the adults made it look.
If one thing has become clearer from all the years of merrily ticking off another annus along the road to death, it is that nobody bloody knows the words to Auld Lang Syne. No one. I suspect it is at the moment you learn the last verse that you die. It is the bell which buzzes you through to the waiting room of eternity. “And there’s a hand, my trusty friend…” BOOF. Gone. See ya.
Chancing the invitation to my own demise I googled the words, and found that most other columnists around the globe are writing something quite similar to this. Columnists talking about Robbie Burns’ famously unknown lyrics, about new years customs and resolutions, about traditions with friends. I worried that Christmas slothdom might have stolen the last wisp of originality from me. But then I felt comforted. Writing a New Year’s Eve column and feeling the trite pull to mention Auld Lang Syne is almost as unavoidable as the passing of the year itself. The song is the twine that stitches our years together; it’s as culturally innate to us as Happy Birthday, and is a darn sight less annoying.
What was strange about reading the lyrics to the song that everyone sings but no one knows was the fact that, despite never having heard them in a collected entirety amid the mumbling of drunken fools, I knew the feeling of the piece. It had made it through all the years of wrongly translated Scottish verse. It had made it through the weird cross-armed hand-shaking and ill-pitched droning – made it even through the mulsh of drunkenness.
It’s about friendship.
Allow me to paraphrase:
Cor. Life’s been a bit of a tinker so far, hasn’t it?
Let’s have a ruddy drink.
I’m glad you’re here, old chum. We’re in this together, right?
Yes. But it’s your round, you cheeky tyke.
Oh, give us a cuddle. We could die in five minutes for all we know.
And that’s pretty much it. Sort of.
Naturally, I’ll have forgotten any lyrics I’ve inadvertently taken in by the time I come to sing it at midnight tonight. But I’ll feel its sentiment coursing through me with the wine and the time. I’ll cross my arms against my chest, and link palms with the people by my side. I’ll shake hands with Time itself; make some sort of uncertain deal. We’ll all be holding hands, humming the tune, but never quite knowing the words; not knowing what the next year will have in store for us, but together in our not knowing. And then there’ll be awkward messy kissing, and we’ll have another drink that we don’t need, but want.