New Year’s Naughtiness

Millions of revelers see New Year’s Eve as a perfect opportunity to party like they know they shouldn’t.


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For the last 20 years, Anderson Cooper, CNN’s marquee news anchor, has emceed a live New Year’s Eve special from Times Square. If you’ve watched, you know that Cooper — a nondrinker on any other day — careens through the shows in a state of giddy semi-sobriety, sharing out-of-school tales about celebs, guffawing at his co-hosts’ irreverent wisecracks, and generally struggling to appear anchor-y. In other words, he behaves rather badly — as do countless millions every New Year’s Eve. Clearly, it has been drilled into our collective brain that the year’s final night comes complete with a license to be stupid.

This is not a recent phenomenon, nor is the carousing limited to our shores. Extreme merry-making is practically a global New Year’s sport, but here in the States we are supremely skilled practitioners. In cities and towns everywhere across the land, we party on New Year’s Eve like it’s 1999, even though it’s not.

Of course, imbibing alcohol for hours on end is not only unbecoming, it’s deadly. Nearly 40 percent of traffic fatalities over the New Year’s holiday involve impaired drivers, according to the National Safety Council. As the website has observed, “You drink while you wait for midnight, drink at midnight, then drink some more after midnight.” No wonder it is, by the site’s ranking, the No. 1 “Drinking Holiday” in America.

So, what can we expect this year as the crystal ball descends in Times Square? With the worst of the pandemic hopefully past, we are ideally teed up for waves of revelers to greet 2023 as a welcome opportunity to fully — finally! — resume life’s everyday pleasures. Which might quite understandably account for an epically rowdy December 31st. On the other hand, as we bid adieu to ’22, some of us may mist up, holding fast to bittersweet memories of what and who we lost since 2020. To be determined, as they say.

Recently, knowing I was going to write this column, I went back and watched the 2011 film New Year’s Eve. Not surprisingly, it presents a picture of happily hammered throngs hanging out practically everywhere. It’s star-studded but ludicrous. (The dying Robert DeNiro character begs to live long enough to hear crowds singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight. He makes it, with moments to spare. Did I give away too much?) Such a horrible movie. Despite its faults, however, there resides in its storyline a sentimentality that captures something important about New Year’s Eve. It is uniquely the night during which, in my view, our only responsibility — should we choose to embrace it — is to focus on love, bliss, gratitude, and forgiveness. Exactly the opposite of stupid. Despite that, the fun often gets embarrassingly out of hand.

For those who seek an alternative to traditional New Year’s madness, there is the option of spending December 31 in one of the American cities that host what’s called First Night. Begun modestly in Boston in 1975, the increasingly popular First Night festivals toast local culture, featuring dance, comedy, ice sculpture, parades, and so on. No alcohol. No wild anything. Nowadays, there are scores of First Nights, everywhere from Tacoma to Pittsburgh.

As for me, the longtime New Year’s Eve tradition is to write into a tiny leather journal a list of well-intentioned resolutions. Admittedly, this makes for a muted night. Also, always, a safe and meaningful one. Which is what I wish for you this year.

This article is featured in the November/December 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. I read this first in the last issue. It’s a stupid non-Holiday dangerous to be out in the car period, especially after midnight. If you don’t have to be out, it’s an important night not to be. If it’s a company/business related thing where it would be awkward not to attend, get there early enough so leaving by 11 won’t seem like you’re leaving early.

    You can always say (to the right person) “I’d love to go, but feel like I’m coming down with something, and need to get to sleep early tonight. Thanks for understanding, and I’ll see you at the office Tuesday.” See? It’s just that easy!


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