"What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
— Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.)
I have boycotted New Year's Eve celebrations for several years now, thusly responding in my own way to our Chinese friend's question from down the millennia.
I don't appreciate being told what to do and when such situations arise, I tend to pursue the course of action opposite to the recommendation. So when each year inevitably runs its course, and unquestioned old customs dictate us to remain awake and wildly intoxicated until its passage is official, I can be found tucked safely and sometimes soberly beneath my bedclothes.
Aside from my objection to orders of any kind, I find the New Year's holiday packed with contradictory expectations that leave me paralyzed. Do I have the greatest night of my life and indulge in drink and a kiss with a stranger? And if so, how can I also emerge next day purified, a renewed being baptized in restrictive resolutions?
The desperation accompanying the celebration doesn't help. It's bad enough not knowing who you're supposed to kiss when the ball drops. A close friend of mine once faced the opposite dilemma, though, as he became trapped in the holidays with a girlfriend he'd grown tired of. A breakup would have been poorly timed just before Christmas and on up through the New Year, so my man had to hold on. And he did, until one last obstacle appeared on his path to freedom: the obligatory New Year's Eve affection. Knowing the inevitability of the breakup, he didn't want to be perceived as a dog after the fact. Or something. Anyhow, this predicament left the gentleman only one course of action on the last night of that year — he gave himself alcohol poisoning.
In times of great trial, I turn to the wisdom of the ancients. I ask myself, what would Confucius have done? A little research into Chinese holiday customs shows that he would have done things quite differently. Chinese New Year celebration extends across 15 days. This gives the deliberate iconoclast — a category the philosopher falls into by definition — his or her option of when to celebrate. If experience is any indication, we have much more to learn from the easterners in this regard — they're on year 4706, and are bound to have figured a few things out in that time.
Sure, it's been awhile since I participated in a New Year's Eve party, but I can guarantee that unlike Chinese New Year celebrations there were no dragons involved. I perceive this to be a weakness.
We fall short of the more experienced celebrators on numerous other fronts. They chase evil spirits of the old year away with firecrackers. We squeeze a few rounds off from our 9mm pistols into the night sky. They honor ancestors with offerings of food and incense. We watch the immortal Dick Clark count the last seconds of the old year away. They spend New Year's Day feasting with family and giving gifts. We spend ours in bed with Advil and Gatorade. Finally, should January 2nd fall between Monday and Friday we very likely find ourselves back at work, while the Chinese may return to normal affairs between five and eight days after the celebration concludes.
Finally, the Chinese celebration seems to lack any tradition of individuals making insincere, temporary stabs at self-improvement. As Confucius wrote, "The real fault is to have faults and not amend them."