Fireworks, Dancing and a Frozen Duck: How We Rang In 2023
A few days before the earth completed its latest orbit of the sun, we asked a group of essayists, novelists and journalists to chronicle how they would bring 2022 to a close and kick off 2023. Their dispatches, filed on Monday, provide glimpses of public and private moments from around the world: a game of beer pong in Toronto; a culinary misadventure in Los Angeles; crowds of samba dancers in Brasília; fireworks bursting over rainy Liverpool; a homey celebration, with soba, in Tokyo; a karaoke evening in rural New York; and a quiet wedding in a Manhattan apartment.
Giving It a Shot
TORONTO — I’ve never really liked New Year’s Eve. I don’t drink, and I don’t really like being forced to reflect, and I especially don’t like being pressured to self-improve (especially when the self-improvement in question feels increasingly focused on getting me to the gym or buying green powder). New Year’s is like casual dating or your first month of university: It feels as if you’re supposed to be having the best time of your life, but it also feels as if everyone else is somehow having a better time than you.
This year, though, I was back in my home city after a cross-country move and looking for any reason to avoid spending the night watching a movie at my parents’ house. My friends insisted that I’d just never given New Year’s Eve an honest shot. So, roused by that challenge, I decided to give it my all.
A couple friends — one from Montreal, one from Scotland — came into town to celebrate with me. I hadn’t lived in Toronto since I was a teenager, so it felt like divine intervention that one of the bands I used to see at house shows was doing a New Year’s Eve set. We went to an indie rock show that turned into a punk show, picking up new people along the way. Then we set off to a friend-of-a-friend’s mysterious house party (after waiting until the host was high enough to let eight strangers into his crowded apartment).
We played beer pong until midnight. I won, but maybe just because I was the only person who wasn’t drinking. Gwen Stefani played as the countdown started, and I kissed my boyfriend when the clock struck 12.
After midnight, I grilled everybody for their 2023 predictions (in: flip phones, sincerity, digging a hole in your backyard; out: polyamory, being mean, performative Catholicism). We took the first smoke break of the new year (in: cigarettes; out: vaping), barefoot and shivering in the cold.
As we walked home, the tone shifted — we talked about the year that lay behind us and the year that sprawled ahead. We felt sad and somber and strange, confronted by the passage of time during one of the most precarious periods we were likely to ever experience. When we got back to my apartment, we set up makeshift beds in my living room for the people who’d missed the last train home, and I watched them fall asleep on the floor I still couldn’t quite believe was mine. Everything felt new.
— Rayne Fisher-Quann
LOS ANGELES — What’s more festive than spending New Years’ Eve getting cursed by a frozen duck?
My family’s duck spent a peaceful existence in our freezer until the middle of Christmas Eve dinner, when we, after calmly contemplating how good it was going to taste the next night, had the collective heart attack specific to realizing that tomorrow’s main course was still covered in ice. But because the year-end holidays come one after another, any frozen duck originally intended for one celebration can be used to celebrate something else. So our Christmas duck swiftly turned itself into a New Years’ Eve duck that didn’t mind frozenly listening to this years’ explanation of Kwanzaa to my son. All we had to do was get it out of the freezer in time to be marinated in salt, herbs and orange zest before we dumped it in the oven.
This time I took the duck out of the freezer with two days to go. While it relaxed in our fridge, I spent a calm 10 minutes searching for the New Year’s black-eyed peas I’d bought 364 days in advance, after shopping for them too late the year before. And then I spent a frantic 10 minutes wondering where a bag of beans goes to die while also being quizzed on the whereabouts of our Chewbacca Christmas tree ornament.
My son, who is having a Star Wars year, spends much of his free time in Jedi robes, heroically battling our apartment’s dust bunnies with a light saber. So of course we decided that the most Christmassy thing we could do would be to get a Chewbacca for our tree. Sadly, our frozen duck had absorbed all the energy we would have spent on Chewbacca and the black-eyed peas. I ended up buying a new batch of black-eyed peas and tracking Chewbacca’s location to a warehouse in Ohio, where he was still waiting out the aftereffects of a snowstorm.
I took the duck out of the fridge on New Year’s Eve only to discover that it was still frozen, resembling a large hockey puck with legs and refusing to be served for dinner. So we ate a hastily assembled cheese plate and declared the duck our New Year’s Day dinner — unless it finds a way to sit that holiday out, too, in which case we’ll throw the duck back in the freezer so we can have it for an extremely festive Martin Luther King Day.
— Kashana Cauley
A New Day in Brazil
BRASÍLIA — On New Year’s Eve I found myself in the tent of a 60-year-old mechanic who was camped outside the headquarters of the Brazilian Army. He was showing me where he pooped: a bucket full of sawdust.
He emptied it every three days, he said. “It doesn’t smell bad,” he assured me.
The people in this camp were earnest — but deluded. They had been here for two months, convinced Brazil’s October election was rigged and demanding that the military intervene before the new president could take office. (The election was not rigged and the military said it would not intervene.)
I’m The Times’s Brazil correspondent and had been following the story for months. So with a day until the inauguration, I wanted to hear what these Brazilians thought.
“The Army will step in. It’s already doing it,” said Magno Rodrigues, 60, the mechanic in a leather jacket. He had been in the camp for 62 days, sharing the tent and a narrow mattress with his wife.
I toured the grounds and heard the protesters out. Eventually, some got upset — to them, the press had been lying about the situation all along — and I left.
That night I met with some French TV correspondents and another friend from Rio de Janeiro, where I live, for a free samba concert along the river. The mood was far different. People from across Brazil had swarmed the capital to celebrate the transition to a new government. It meant the return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the 77-year-old leftist former president, who has an almost messianic following, and the ejection of Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right president who had overseen four years of tumult.
I’ve been to plenty of New Year’s Eve parties but never one with such sheer joy. The crowd spilled out of the tented area onto the grassy riverbank below, and the street vendors were running out of beer. At midnight, we marveled at the fireworks, but the main attraction was yet to come.
I woke up early to write, and chants of Mr. Lula’s name were already ringing out in the streets. I was finishing my story on the inauguration, which was partly focused on Mr. Bolsonaro. He should have been a key figure in Sunday’s ceremonies, passing the presidential sash to his successor, but he left for Florida two days earlier, hoping the distance would help cool the investigations he faced. His absence now set up a peculiar moment: Who would pass the new president the sash?
I reported that afternoon from the presidential offices, where Mr. Lula would ascend a ramp and put on the sash. I went up as high as I could for a vantage point. From above, I watched Mr. Lula and his wife, Janja, pause at the base of the ramp as a small group assembled: an Indigenous man, a Black woman, a disabled man, a 10-year-old boy — collectively a representation of Brazil’s diversity. They interlocked arms and walked up together, the crowd cheering and chanting, a pulsing sea of red behind them.
As they reached the top, a voice announced that Mr. Lula would accept the sash from “the Brazilian people.” A 33-year-old female trash collector played the role of Mr. Bolsonaro and placed the sash on the new president. I looked around and much of the crowd was crying.
— Jack Nicas
Shirley MacLaine, Where Are You?
LIVERPOOL, England — I hate New Year’s Eve. My usual coping mechanism is as follows: If I start to watch Billy Wilder’s film “The Apartment” (1960) at 9:58 p.m. and 50 secs precisely, at midnight I am guaranteed to ring in the new year in a bar with Shirley MacLaine; a few minutes later, auld acquaintance briskly forgot, I go to bed. This year, because I am working away from home I have opted to stand in the freezing rain at Liverpool’s Albert Dock, wait for some stupid fireworks to explode and feel sorry for myself.
It’s five minutes to midnight and my bed is 300 miles away. Shirley MacLaine is nowhere to be seen.
Several thousand strangers and I have gathered at the foot of the historic Royal Liver Building, atop which perch statues of two Liver Birds that I find myself compelled to describe as iconic. We are a short walk from The Beatles Story, a museum devoted to a local group who were popular once in the largely discredited 20th century but are now almost entirely forgotten. And over there, just along the River Mersey, stands the M & S Bank Arena, which on May 13, 2023, will host the Eurovision Song Contest. Britain, the runner-up in 2022, is staging the event as a substitute for last year’s winner, Ukraine, which currently has a lot on its plate. There will be fireworks that night, too.
About me at the Pier Head are families and groups of friends from around the globe, residents partying in their hometown or tourists who, like me, are just passing through. Liverpool is twinned with the Ukrainian port of Odesa which, along with that Beatles connection, may be why the city triumphed in its bid to host the iconic — sorry — tournament. It promises to be the most joyous, most emotional Eurovision final ever; let’s hope it is. But let’s also hope this is a one-off and that soon Kyiv itself will echo to the sound of pop music, however trashy or divine, from the continent at large, including maybe Russia.
And standing here at midnight, together alone in the excitable crowd, I think: Come on, this isn’t so bad. Whatever stupid fireworks may be bursting over Kherson or Kharkiv or Mariupol this New Year’s Eve, they aren’t stupid and they aren’t fireworks. People in those cities will die tonight, people just like these. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and embrace whatever the new year brings; you can handle a little homesickness. As Shirley MacLaine almost says every year at 12:04 a.m.: Shut up and deal with it.
— Andy Miller
Hope and Soba
TOKYO — Our New Year’s Eve peaked around 9 p.m.
Sure, we coulda, shoulda hopped on the subway to Shibuya Crossing, the pedestrian nerve center of Tokyo where revelers gather for the midnight countdown. (Nah, too crowded.) Or we could have walked to Zozoji, a Buddhist temple that dates back to the 16th century, to witness the annual bell-ringing ceremony and expunge our anxieties and worldly desires. (Too cold and too crowded.) Instead, my husband and I committed to the couch.
I kept the television volume turned low on “Kōhaku Uta Gassen,” an annual New Year’s Eve musical competition among bands divided by gender. Usually I find the show a total bore and turn it off after one or two kitschy acts. But this year, my hairdresser was styling the hair and makeup of one of the pop groups, and I wanted to show my support.
Waiting for the band to come on, I remembered my childhood, when I lived in Japan with my parents for two years during elementary school. Back then, I loved the “Kōhaku.” I would try desperately to stay awake for it, but fell asleep on my father’s lap, only to be shaken awake for the final countdown.
My own children had no such interest. My daughter, home after her first semester at college, headed out to meet some high school friends. My son watched another show in his room.
Right around 9 p.m., the band I had been waiting for came onscreen. Their hair was perfectly scruffed and dyed. For a moment, something of my childhood excitement returned.
An hour before the year ended, I cooked “toshikoshi soba,” buckwheat noodles traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve to ensure a long and happy life. My son emerged from his room for the final meal of 2022, joining us for the salty slurping. My husband and I watched several bell-ringing ceremonies broadcast on the television from around the country. When the clock flipped to midnight, I texted friends in the U.S. to wish them a happy new year from the future, one of my favorite rituals since we moved to Japan six years ago.
On New Year’s Day, we walked to Atago Shrine, where we climbed its 86 steps to pay our respects and express gratitude for the year. We bought “o-mikuji,” fortunes printed on folded strips of paper.
“A storm is blowing hard outside, but inside the house it’s warm like spring,” mine read. “Your Fortune: Quite Good.”
I’ll take it.
— Motoko Rich
Oh, What a Beautiful Karaoke Evening
OLIVEREA, N.Y. — I kept seeing the night as a scene in the eventual autobiographical jukebox karaoke musical I dream about writing.
The setting: a New Year’s Eve dinner that has been held for eight years running at a 1930s-era Catskills cabin two hours north of New York, bought as a communitarian, queer family experiment in 2014.
The menu: a charcuterie plate, porchetta, Ottolenghi’s Persian spaghetti, green beans and roasted almonds, a winter salad, tahini chocolate chip cookies and a gâteau Basque. Drinks include Negroni Sbagliatos, gin martinis, champagne, Lambrusco and Prosecco, rye whisky.
The hosts: myself, a novelist and essayist; my husband, Dustin Schell, a freelance editor; our friends and co-owners Kera Bolonik, the writer and editor; her wife, Meredith Clair, a real estate lawyer; and their son, Theo.
Our guests: Harold Augenbraum, the writer, editor, and translator; and his wife, Carla Scheele, a musician and activist; Vickie Starr, a talent manager; her wife, Maria Gianas, a real estate broker; and their child (co-parented with Linda Villarosa and Jana Welch), Nic Villarosa, an artist and nonbinary model. The newest guest is Regan Wood, an architectural interiors photographer from Brooklyn.
The scene answers a question Regan asks at the cocktail hour: “How do you all know each other?” I improvise a few descriptions, all improbable in retrospect, beginning with Kera and I meeting at Sasha Hemon’s book party at the home of the editor Nan Talese in 2000. I’ve known Harold since he was the director of the Mercantile Library, before it became the Center for Fiction, and met Vickie through the activist queer weekly Outweek in 1991 — she was an editor there and I wrote for the magazine. Maria was the officiant for my wedding to Dustin here at this cabin on Jan. 7, 2017, just before Trump took office.
Many of us have sung karaoke together for over a decade, and so we bring the microphones out just before midnight, pausing for a toast before continuing. Maria sings Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio,” with a singing voice I didn’t know she had. Dustin sings Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Line,” and I record it, adding to the rendition of “Hot Child in the City” I listen to when I travel for work and miss him.
Vickie and Nic’s version of Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason” has an intercut flashback of their singing it together in the car when Nic is 10. And Dustin and Meredith’s sublime version of the Alison Krauss and Robert Plant duet “Gone Gone Gone” should have flashback scenes drawn from the many times they’ve sung it together. Regan gets the room singing together for Pat Benatar’s “We Belong,” and I keep that going with “Superstar” by the Carpenters.
The climax could only be Harold, singing his first ever karaoke song, “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’,” from “Oklahoma!” He sings it slowly, tentatively, as Carla watches, smiling, crowned in a blond wig from a nearby closet.
And the ending? After everyone hugs goodbye, the narrator — me — tries to go to sleep, but instead remembers how he practiced songs in his car during quarantine errands, a mask on the seat next to him, afraid he would never do this again. Camera pans out on his face as his eyes close, happy to be wrong.
— Alexander Chee
A New Year’s Wedding
NEW YORK — The calendar is arbitrary and devoid of meaning in the quantum world, or so my husband, John, likes to tell me, but I like to cram meaning into even the most random tedious days. So New Year’s is a seductive opportunity to find omens in every puddle with a little sparkle of light. I don’t indulge in self-sabotage by making resolutions. I just want to make lists, envision and reflect — to offset the Forgetting, make course corrections and increase the gratitude.
When I was 19, my stepmother was sitting next to me eating caviar, and I turned up my nose and said, “Ewww.” She looked at me out of the corner of her eye and drawled serenely, “You are the kind of woman who would love caviar.” I indeed turned out to be the kind of woman who loves caviar but only thinks to eat it once a year. So I endured the survival experience that is Eataly in the Flatiron on New Year’s Eve morning to procure some of the same.
Then I went to Elizabeth Street to get a second piercing in my right earlobe. I had the idea for months, and it nagged at me up until the clock was running out on 2022. I suppose I wanted a physical token of the year to take into the next, a memento that wasn’t a wrinkle.
Around 4 p.m., John and I, newly pierced, ate the caviar on blinis while listening to Judy Clay and William Bell. Then we ordered a pizza from Tappo, played three games of gin rummy and watched four episodes of “Slow Horses.” At midnight we heard the yells from Times Square, 20 blocks north of us, clinked glasses and went to bed around 1 a.m.
I was really tired the next morning. It turns out that I’m not the kind of woman who loves eating caviar if it entails staying up after midnight. I vacuumed the living room, listened to “Irish Sundays” on WFUV and stared at the Christmas tree for awhile. Energy and anticipation started to build as we readied for the wedding of our close friend Marc Cohn. With only family and us in attendance, he was marrying Lisa Berg at their apartment on Riverside Drive at 4:30 p.m. on the seventh anniversary of their first date, New Year’s Day 2016.
John and I sang “Let It Be Me” to the luminous couple as they stood under the huppah in the living room and the sun set over the Hudson River in the enormous picture window behind them. In their vows they mentioned that the “glass-half-empty man had found his glass-half-full woman,” and I recognized myself and John in that. No judgment. My half-full needs his half-empty as much as the reverse.
I love and long for occasions that demand unequivocal optimism — where half-full meets half-empty. I love a ritual that is bound by memory and time. The calendar may be arbitrary, but there is meaning in a white dress and veil, a groom who chokes up and the mighty Hudson shimmering with pink and gold, glasses full, sparkle and glow, on a New Year’s Day.
— Rosanne Cash
Kyle Berger is a photographer in Toronto.
Rosanne Cashis a singer, songwriter and author. Her most recent album is “She Remembers Everything.”
Kashana Cauley, a former staff writer for “The Daily Show,” is the author of the novel “The Survivalists.”
Alexander Chee is the author of the novels “Edinburgh” and “The Queen of Night” and the essay collection “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.”
Rayne Fisher-Quann is the writer of the Substack newsletter Internet Princess.
Andy Miller is the author of “The Year of Reading Dangerously” and the co-host of the podcast “Backlisted.”
Jack Nicas is the Brazil bureau chief for The New York Times, covering Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Motoko Rich is the Tokyo bureau chief for The Times, where she covers Japanese politics, society, gender and the arts, as well as news and features on the Korean Peninsula.