Once you get to a certain age let’s face it. New Year’s Eve is about as exciting as taking out the trash. In fact I can’t remember the last time I actually stayed up until midnight.
But there was a time when I drank champagne and toasted in the New Year in something other than sweats… really!
My most memorable New Year’s Eve was the inspiration for this scene from the Graduation Present:
I felt like telling Uncle Bob that it was his fault for leaving me at the officers’ club, slightly tipsy and vulnerable. His fault that light snow fell as we floated along the river in a tide of other young people, Beethoven’s “Ode of Joy” blaring from every restaurant barge, café and tavern:
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken.
And then, giddily we’d made up our own lyrics:
Guten Tagen, Wiedersehen!
We were in a snow-globe world. Sam from Colorado, Elke on the prowl, Gil, me and a few others whose names I never caught, shoes clacking on cobblestone streets, singing silly verses, laughing till our breath froze. We arrived at the station just as the last train to Heidelberg was pulling out. “Run!” Sam screamed as we joined the crowd of young Germans rushing the train. The conductor soon gave up trying to stop us, the joyous rapture having overcome even him.
The scene on board that train was so chaotic, rowdy, and full of drunken revelers it was impossible for our group to stay together. Gil grabbed my hand and pulled me through the mob. “Let’s go to the next car!” he yelled as I followed behind.
Two crowded cars down we finally found a seat and snuggled together by the window as the train rambled along. For once in my life, I didn’t feel the need to talk. I was content to listen to the clanking of the wheels and the laughter coming from the next car, while Gil fiddled with my hair “looking for split ends,” he claimed with a chuckle.
Heidelberg Castle sits on a hill overlooking the town of Heidelberg. Its fortress walls, easily spanning several city blocks, were lit by a barrage of pastel lights. “Wow,” I blurted out. “It’s magical! Like Disneyland!”
The crowd on the train erupted as we entered the Heidelberg station: “Hoorah! Happy New Year!” The shouting continued as the train slowed to a stop and the doors opened. “Hoorah! Happy New Year!” the mob roared as they jumped from the train and began running up the hill.
Along the route, street vendors sold beer and kazoos to hoards of half-drunk revelers. In that moment we were not German or French or Italian or even American. We were free from the past, free from our separate islands of prejudice as we sang “Come sing this song of joy” and marched uphill to storm the storybook castle with shared humanity.
We’d just managed to reach the middle of town when the fireworks began, first as fizzles in the falling snow, and then, mini starbursts in the clouds, promptly followed by the crashing booms of hearts on fire. They continued for thirty minutes, gaining in intensity until the sky filled with iridescent glitter falling to earth around us. Redemption, absolution. The conclusion, a spectacular silver and gold explosion, lit the medieval castle, exposing the ghosts of past inhabitants, barbarians who, decked out in their armor and jewels, stood on the fortress for a chance at peace.
Come sing this song of Joy.
Just for you on the brink of a new year:
- Flash mob performing Ode to Joy!
- Beatles singing Ode to Joy to save Ringo from the man-eating tiger!
Against all hope on a darkening evening in a year of grief, in a year of pain, in a year of dim visions and dimmer thoughts, still sing, sing and share the dream.
Happy New Year’s Everyone!