How To Stay Up Late: A New Year’s Guide for the Tired, the Faded, and the Jaded

mansfield midnight

By Susan Lilley

Although this post appeared years ago on this auspicious day, I still stand by this sage (if I say so myself) advice! Hope it helps the desperate, the damned, and the doomed on New Year’s Eve. 

New Year’s Eve is like an overtired child having a meltdown in a public place. It wants what it can never have. It arches its back and screams in a way that makes bystanders turn away in disgust and pity. Although this night seems to promise Gatsbyesque reveling in an evening dressed in sparkles and bubbles, most people report a rather disappointing history with the turn of the year celebration. The key is to get hold of the situation before it gets hold of you. First of all, if you haven’t made a plan yet, you’re screwed. It’s New Year’s Eve! But perhaps it’s not too late if you follow my basic directions and trouble-shooting tips below.

Note: If you are under 35 but exhausted enough to throw in the towel at 9 p.m., you probably are ill, have small children, or are toiling at that certain stage of medical school when getting zero sleep is a badge of honor. This guide is not for you. You still know how to stay up late under normal circs. Happy New Year and better luck next year.

I am talking to my people: world-weary veteran revelers with hundreds of parties under our belts. I mean, really. We are so over it. Must we go through this charade again? The phony suspense of the countdown, the midnight kiss or bittersweet lack thereof, the schadenfreude evoked by the mindless, churning Times Square mob on the TV screen? If you are anything like me, you long ago gave up seeing in the new year in public places, except when you could not avoid it. Even tried and true restaurants jack up their prices with “special menus,” and you have to watch total strangers misbehave while drunk.

But done right, the turning of the year can actually gather more meaning as one marches bravely down life’s path. A proper celebration may even cast a magical glow onto the infant days of the year ahead.

México calendar_1790-1bCalendars are fascinating puzzles of time. We forget that the rhythms of the days, weeks, months, years, centuries, and millennia are part of an ancient, glittering web where science, history, and mystery mesh. Meditating on recorded time connects us to the natural world and the enigmas of planetary movement, to our ongoing attempts to understand and make sense of it all, our thirst for a human knowledge that will never be complete.

And it’s as personal as it is cosmic. None of us know how many New Years we will celebrate, but it’s something I think about more with every trip around the sun. In my own little corner of the world, I have seen people leave this life in the past year, some far too young, and most having no idea that this year was the last year they would be here to count.

So despite all the overblown balderdash associated with New Year’s Eve, I humbly suggest that the big calendar change is worth staying up for. Whether you repair to a friend’s home, have your own little soiree, or tuck yourself in for the night alone with some roasted vegetable pizza and salted caramel gelato (which does not sound half bad), it’s a challenge for some of us to stay up past the beautiful bedtime hour of 10. But if you are determined, here’s how:

  1. Start the night before. Get enough sleep and wake up as late as possible on the morning of the 31st. That can be difficult if your body clock gets you up at 6 regularly, but try. I have already blown this part, but oh well.
  2. Don’t be hungover. I really shouldn’t have to say this, but have noticed that some do need this advice. The debauchery of the holidays can seem normal after a while. It’s not! (Having said that, is it too early for a Bloody Mary?)
  3. If you are a napper: There are many options for collecting more chunks of stamina throughout the day, time permitting. Just like solar panels absorbing light, a human being taking a 20-minute power nap can gather precious energy for the night ahead. If, like me, you cannot nap unless stricken with the plague, just take it easy and don’t tire yourself. If anyone asks you to do anything that involves mental or physical exertion, decline. You are in training for the long evening.
  4. That evening: Don’t get too comfortable. Don’t watch a movie. Talk, sing, play games, take walks, cook, dance, rearrange the living room, teach your dog tricks. Movies and Netflix binges are for other times, in my opinion. Remember, you don’t want to escape. Be present. Don’t forget what night it is.
  5. Troubleshooting tip: If you get dangerously tired, employ the great secret weapon of the 1980s: the disco nap. An evening nap can be scheduled to make sure you are perked up and back in the game around 11. If the situation is dire, take a shower and start over. Once, while overwhelmed at my own party, I retired to my bathroom for a bath around 11:45. Nobody missed me until the final countdown, and except for a few drunk people banging on the bathroom door, I had a very peaceful water birth into the new year. I was a single mother of young children at the time, and had a lot to think about. As selfish as my private observance might have seemed to my friends, it remains one of my most cherished New Year’s memories.
  6. If you are trapped at a huge horrible party: Find a place under the sky before midnight.
  7. If you are alone: This is not the worst thing in the world. The worst thing is a huge horrible party where you feel the forced celebration swirl around you like poison gas, and every voice/song/scream/chair scrape/cork pop grates on your last gay/straight/sensitive/snobbish/jaded nerve. In fact, if you are alone, I salute you. You have a chance for a pretty meaningful transition with someone you care about. And I am personally grateful to have aged out of the absolute worst New Year’s parties on earth. Not giving a shit is often the best policy.
  8. Caution (especially for the youngsters): Don’t drink crap, don’t drink too much too early, and if you’re male, don’t force yourself on someone. And don’t get arrested. All those things can really F up your sparkly holiday. Let your celebrational urge lean toward meaning and connection, not what-the-hell-it’s-new-year’s! insanity. Or you might be really sorry.
  9. Preparation: Hopefully you will have had some time to say something to yourself, and maybe others, about the weirdnesses, joys, gratitudes, sea changes, devastating losses, or perplexities of the last year. It’s different every year, isn’t it? Some years will be luminously lovely and some indelibly sad. Others, meh. Any regrets or angers? Consider writing them on slips of paper and setting them on fire. As for the future, talk is good but not binding. Try to avoid the word “goals.”
  10. At midnight: Smile. Kiss, even if it’s your own sweet self in the mirror. Look at the sky. You’ve made it. Happy New Year.

midnight stonehenge

16 replies »

  1. I love this piece! Even in my youth, when my basket of wild oats was still full, I never could buy into the mandatory hoopla of New Year’s Eve. My mother calls it “amateur alcoholic night.” I much prefer a little winter solstice reflection. For me, by December 31st, a noticeably longer day than the 21st, the new year has already well begun. I love the suggestion that you escape the kisses, bubbly, and noisemakers and go outside alone at midnight. Yes.


  2. This hits home in a big way for me. My kids and I and a few dear others were going to go to our old house tonight to toast all the good times in that house, ushering out the old and bringing in the new. I was thinking about not doing it after all, because the house was supposed to be empty by now and it’s not. This essay changed my mind. Nothing could stop me from spending NYE that way now. Thanks, Susan, for helping me see the stars through the clouds.


  3. You are wise beyond your tender years, dear Susan, and funnier than a slip on a banana peel. Have a bright and shiny new year!


  4. I’m thrilled to say I already conquered some of your tips all on my own–slept late, had a nap, late cuppa tea. Now I’m getting ready to go to the fanciest hotel on beach (the Don Cesar, but we’ll just have bubbly in the cheap seats in the lobby) and get my boogie on–even with a pulled tendon that will have me merely dancing in my seat. We are tired and worn out, sixty is peering in the front windshield, but we gotta celebrate New Year’s Eve!1


  5. I love it! I am one who has trouble staying up until midnight these days, so I’m going to take your advice to heart. I’ll let you know how it turns out! Happy New Year.


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