Mark Steel: The best way to enjoy your New Year's Eve is to scrap it

This festival of weirdness is made worse by being so close to Christmas

Wednesday 30 December 2009 01:00

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve so it's going to be FUN. Because this is when you're not only allowed but encouraged to get drunk. Newspapers provide tips on coping with hangovers, radio presenters scream "It's going to be CRAZY in Brighton tonight, where the dolphinarium has been FILLED with tequila." The Archbishop of Canterbury will probably make a statement that "As we know, it's customary good practice to get utterly bladdered on New Year's Eve. Many's the New Year's morn I've spent washing sick off my cassock, and apologising to the General Synod for assorted acts of naked blasphemy, but it's all been jolly decent FUN."

Maybe this year local councils will provide fun officers, who have the authority to enter any premises where they suspect there's not enough fun and order everyone to wave their arms and take photos of each other's arses. Everywhere has to charge an entrance fee. Cafés announce "Open for New Year's Eve breakfast – bacon, egg, fried slice and glass of sherry for £285.00." Hardware stores hand out flyers saying "Celebrate Hogmanay amongst our wide range of saws and spirit levels, £300 including rawlplug of Bells whisky and two feet of copper wire."

It must be confusing for tramps, as they'll turn up at their usual bench and discover there's a £20 entrance fee. It all means there's less chance of real fun than on a normal day, as it's all organised and official. The joy of most great drinking sessions is the mischief and spontaneity, when you unexpectedly spend seven hours in an illegal rum festival while you should be at work or supervising a heart transplant or calling people to prayers at the mosque.

So New Year's Eve is like those boards that local authorities put up for kids to graffiti on, or the chants that baseball fans are directed to sing by stadium announcers. By making these acts official the fun is ruined.

And this annual weirdness is supplemented in England by the fact that it comes so soon after the ritual of our strange Christmas. In every other culture from the Iron Age onwards, festivals involved the community going outwards and celebrating communally; but we do the opposite and turn everything towards isolation. What might Brazilians think when we explain our annual festival? They must ask where the carnival starts, and we say "We do better than Mardi Gras, we shut absolutely everything and sit indoors eating shortbread."

And we create an expectation of perfect dinners and presents, that makes people feel a Christmas Ofsted inspector will be round in the afternoon, to sit in the corner with a clipboard making notes about unsatisfactory napkins. So for people who play Christmas by the rules it becomes a festival of stress. One scientific way of measuring this stress is through the RSOW index. This can be calculated by anyone who cycles regularly round London, by counting, in an average hour of cycling, how often you receive a Random Shout Of "Wanker" from angry pent-up motorists. Usually it comes in at around one a day, but in the week before Christmas it's every 10 minutes, when these people must be so stressed they're snarling "All day I've been trying to find that poxy Xbox game and stuck in traffic and now this bastard has the audacity to be on a pushbike – right, here we go – WANKER!"

It must be for similar reasons that Christmas is the most popular time for suicides. There must be a line of thought that goes "It will all be over by January 4th, so only 11 more days. Sod it, that's too long, I'll fetch the rope."

Nevertheless, on Christmas Day, for a strange set of reasons, I found myself in Southall, the Indian area in west London, where the streets were packed as on a normal market day with no hint of Christmas. The Indian music that pumped out of the record shops was glorious, in that none of it had a chorus where jolly was rhymed with holly, or if it did at least it was in a language I can't understand. Friends called across the street at each other, shopkeepers offered a relaxed and helpful demeanour that's only possible if you haven't been ordered to wear fun reindeer antlers, and everyone seemed full of good tidings and joy. Anyone arriving from another world would have assumed they'd landed in a festival, unlike the poor sods in the rest of the country undergoing some enforced annual sacrifice.

The answer must be that you've a better chance of having a brilliant time at Christmas and New Year if you ignore the fact it's Christmas and New Year. Or join a religion that insists the Christians are three days out, then get absolutely smashed on January 4th.

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