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Op-Ed: The dark night of my New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve
(Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images)

The day before Christmas I brought some cookies to a friend and we stood in her doorway talking about the holidays. She said that Christmas, the holiday spirit and all the decorations and festivities made her weepy. “But you’re not like that,” she said to me. “You don’t get weepy.”

She’s right. I pride myself on being unsentimental. I’m the one who makes jokes about disabled Tiny Tim and Santa’s feelings for Rudolph. I get a Christmas tree and I decorate my house, and my husband and I usually host Christmas dinner for many people, but when I watch Linus deliver the final speech in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or one of those commercials where a prodigal makes it home in time to open the presents, I never shed a tear.

It’s New Year’s Eve that gets me. I am undone by the realization that another year has passed. So many resolutions made and broken. So many things I should have done but didn’t.

What my friend doesn’t know is that it’s New Year’s Eve that gets me. I am undone by the realization that another year has passed. So many resolutions made and broken. So many things I should have done but didn’t. I should have worked harder and complained less. I should have exercised more and eaten less. I should have been a better friend, a better partner and a better mother. I should have stood up straight and stopped slouching. I cannot help but spend New Year’s Eve filled with remorse.

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Remorse is a terrible emotion. There is so little one can do once it sets in. I can apologize to a friend for not returning her phone call today, but I can’t go back through the last 12 months and make amends for all the times I was brusque or cut someone off in traffic or didn’t pay attention when I should have.

My husband’s Jewish, and on Yom Kippur he can atone for 12 months of sins by fasting and praying. I envy him; I like the idea of exchanging year-end revelry for secular penance. Instead, as the clock ticks on toward midnight, my ritual is to wonder whether I accomplished anything. I am invariably convinced that it is not enough to have gone to work, paid the bills, been happy with my family and friends, read a good book and had a couple of good laughs.

Rationally, I know that to do as much as you can — to just keep at it — is to succeed. As Emerson said: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.” I know that tomorrow is another day. But that doesn’t cut it in the dark night of my New Year’s Eve.

Thank God for Jan. 1. Somehow, I wake up relieved; the morning does bring a new beginning. I can’t seem to avoid the reckoning, but I allow myself to reboot. Optimism — perhaps blindly, stupidly — returns: This coming year could be different.

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To help make it so, I take down the Christmas tree. I put away the decorations, my Santa mug, the colored lights on the porch, and the CDs of carols. I vacuum up the pine needles and clean out the refrigerator. It’s my tradition to start the year with a clean house.

I also write a note every year, usually on the back of a favorite holiday card, and tuck it in the box with the angel that goes on the top of our tree. The note contains my wishes for the coming months. I don’t write about world peace or gun control, and only once did I mention who I hoped would be president-elect. Nor is it about what I should or shouldn’t do; it’s about my hopes for my children, their partners and my husband; it’s about what I dream they may accomplish.

Next December, I will read the note aloud while we trim the tree. My kids will tease me and my husband will shake his head over my great expectations. It doesn’t really matter if the wishes come true. It is only my own achievements that bedevil me. To me, my family is perfect, no matter what.

It is possible that next year I’ll be perfect too. It is possible that I will keep all my resolutions for 2016. Just in case, however, this year I will insert a wish for myself, that next Dec. 31 I will give myself a flipping break and skip all the regrets. Thinking about makes me weepy.

Diana Wagman’s latest novel is “Life #6.”

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