One New Year’s Eve, at eight years old, my parents left me alone with a neighbor, a bottle of sparkling cider, and a television for company. Far away, in New York City, thousands of people danced in the streets as the minutes of the last day of the year ticked on the giant clock in the sky. The people on the television writhed and hopped. They screamed at me from across the country. I could not hear them — I could only watch the clock, suspended, waiting to shout HAPPY NEW YEAR!! at my neighbor at exactly the right moment.

I woke up late on January 1st. Everything was as it was. I understood then that nothing happens on New Year’s and nothing ever would.

The great haiku artist Kobayashi Issa wrote this:

New Year’s Day– everything is in blossom! I feel about average.

Typically, I plan party food according to two basic rules: One, make it delicious, and two, present it in a discrete form that can be picked up and brandished in the course of energetic conversation without spraying crumbs or dip everywhere. But for New Year’s Eve, which I usually spend with a close cadre of friends, I am willing to break the rules for lucky foods. New Year’s style so often seems to highlight glitter and glamour: Sparkling beverages, spangle and shine on the clothes, twinkling lights — but the food is down-home, humble but filling and delicious. I simmer black-eyed peas to creaminess with a ham hock in a slow cooker. I leave the pork out of the collard greens in case of vegetarian guests, but I caramelize the onions with a smoky salt and deglaze with wine to make this humble green a little dressier for the occasion…. More…

Do you have any advice on how to stick to New Year’s resolutions? How do poets do it?

— Carl

My impulse is to say that if a poet breaks a New Year’s Resolution, she reflects on it, maybe writing a few lines of verse in private, and then realizes that it never should have been a New Year’s resolution in the first place. Just read the first stanza from Alfred Nicol’s “New Year”:

Like an engaging lady’s whim,

Or like a tabby’s morning swim;

Like an accountant’s spending spree,

A starlet’s popularity,

A daughter’s mood, a boy’s regrets,

An open box of chocolates;

Like morning mist; like cradlesong:

My resolution lasts as long.

New Year’s resolutions are whimsical things that have been an obligation ever since hat assignment in grade school (if I remember right it was something like “Write down Ten New Year’s Resolutions”). This obligation stays with… More…

Our modern passion for marking anniversaries can be traced back to the ancient Etruscans, whose belief in the cosmic significance of historical cycles was absorbed by the Romans. According to their augurs, every 110 years — then the maximum possible length of a human life — formed a distinct historical epoch called a saeculum, represented by its own metal (the golden age was best, silver second best…) and ruled by its own astrological power. Overall, history went in 10-saeculum cycles from glory to decadence to disaster to renewal and back again, ad infinitum, echoing the eternal movements of the seasons themselves. The turning of each cycle was marked with a festival or religious rite. Naturally, this emphasis on dates and cycles provoked an artificial self-awareness at key transitional moments — the Roman millennium of 248 A.D. being one extreme case, and the New Year’s Eve party of 1999 A.D. being… More…