Come New Year’s Eve, many Germans sit down and watch Dinner for One, a black and white British skit written in the 20s and perhaps most famously recorded in the 1960s, that involves an elderly woman (with failing eyesight) throwing a 90th birthday party for herself. (Coincidentally, this appears to be the only thing on TV the Germans don’t dub.) Miss Sophie, our protagonist, invites all of her friends as she has done for many years and throws a sumptuous dinner with plenty of alcohol, served by her butler, James. The punchline of the entire skit lies in the fact none of her friends are actually alive. She has outlived them all. James the butler is forced to play each of the parts of her friends and participate in each of the toasts made. He becomes roaringly drunk and so the hilarity ensues.
The key and oft-exchanged line of the entire skit is, ‘same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?’ to which Miss Sophie responds, ‘same procedure as every year, James!’
The whole thing technically has absolutely nothing to do with New Year’s Eve, save perhaps for that line: same procedure as every year, which is an excellent summary of New Year’s Eve as a celebration. Each of my New Year’s Eve celebrations spent in my home town of Sydney have followed a well-trodden path. You begin a few weeks out by agonising over where to celebrate (if you’re a Sydneysider, this means trying desperately to find something close to the bridge, even if close is 20km away with a balcony high enough to catch the top of the fireworks, someone with an enormous television, or just someone willing to give up their place and carpet) then decide on a suitable NYE outfit, stock up on alcohol, hit the champagne relatively early in the day (it’s NYE!) and, as the light fades, gather around with friends to discuss how enormous the year has been.
And they’re always big years. We always find ourselves at the end of them, saying, ‘God, wasn’t *** a huge year?’ and unable to resist the urge to list off all that took place. Unable to resist the urge to reflect on how much we did or didn’t see, achieve, lose, hurt, do. It’s a sort of therapy, this reflecting, a way to process it all in time to take on a new twelve month block of constant change and occurrence. A note of competitiveness often creeps in, if one is reflecting in any sort of company, surrounding the question of who had a bigger, harder year. It’s unavoidable. We drink until midnight, when glasses are hurriedly refreshed for the slurred countdown, watch the fireworks – which are always spectacular, off the bridge – shed a tear, and wish all and sundry a Happy New Year. If you’re smart, you call it a night there, on a high note. If not, you keep drinking and someone/several people at once invariably has an enormous emotional meltdown/argument at around 2am, the origins and ultimate execution of which are forgotten the next day when you wake up feeling like utter shit.
Same procedure as every year.
The couple of Silvesters I have spent in Germany have involved looking on, aghast, as Germans of all ages lose their shit and set off rockets with absolutely no regard to general safety precautions (Silvester and queuing is where the innate German need for order and system, goes out the window). I will always remember my father’s face, in Berlin, as we stood among whistling firecrackers, my sister slipping and sliding in the hard, grey ice-snow to try and get a better view of the absolute madness. She ended up sliding elegantly down a mound of dirty snow, into a crumpled heap on the footpath. My parents ended up running to their hotel room, fearing for their lives, or at least their faces, as toddlers set off rockets willy nilly.
This year it will be a quiet one. I don’t quite know what Weidenites do to ring in the New Year (I assume they watch Dinner for One and then take to the streets to set off firecrackers like mad things) but I am quite content to stay inside with a glass of something, some delicious food and some sort of terrible movie.
And to say to the walls, repeatedly, ‘My God, it has been a big year.’