Happy New Year from Chile!

A year ago I never could have imagined where I would be this New Year’s Eve.

A year ago, I was at a yoga retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, escaping the madness that is NYE (well, I think it’s madness). For many, it’s a chance to celebrate new beginnings. For others, it’s just a great excuse for a party. Many people go to bed early, and sleep right through it. For me, it was a constant exercise in pain management.

As you all know, everything on NYE revolves around the big kiss at midnight. I detest this fact. It’s worse than Valentine’s Day. At least one can ignore Valentine’s Day as a commercially fabricated holiday. Not so NYE. I so wished we could just celebrate the New Year with good friends and good wishes. Not being in a relationship, and not desiring to kiss some random stranger, every year I sought newer and better ways to celebrate without that midnight kiss. I went to lavish D.C. parties in fancy dresses; I went to dinner at beautiful restaurants. Even when I was dating someone, this tenuous moment only invoked stress and uncertainty – but that story deserves its own book! 😉

The thing I wanted most was to honor the beginning of a new year with some reflection, some gratitude, and some positive ideas about what there was to come. So last year, I threw off every last social construction surrounding this blasted day, and I fled the city. I found solace in the mountains, the snow and the silence of North Carolina. I had the New Year’s Eve I wanted – one in which I thought about everything that had happened in 2016 and all the things I wanted 2017 to be. It was there that I accepted I had been very unhappy for a very long time. It was there that I reflected on all that I had accomplished over a 16+ year career and thought, what else could I possibly be capable of? Next thing you know, I’m on plane headed to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language.

I haven’t looked back.

This year, I find myself in a place where people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them the importance of a midnight kiss in the U.S. They say, no, here it’s all about family and the dinner and hugging each other at midnight. As I sat one afternoon, listening to Marta tell me about all the traditions surrounding NYE in Chile, I found myself smiling more and more. This sounded like a holiday that could be fun!

Of course, the thing I found most fun was the yellow underwear. Yes, people in Chile give each other yellow underwear as a gift for NYE. It is supposed to symbolize a year of good sex (I’m so not making this up – check out this link: New Year’s Eve traditions). They also wear white to symbolize the newness of the year. They eat 12 grapes at each stroke of midnight, to symbolize each month of the year. They take their suitcases for a walk around the block to usher in travel in the New Year. Their NYE dinner is much more akin to our Thanksgiving dinner. This is the time for families to gather around, for large meals, copious amounts of alcohol (wait, that’s any day in Chile) and lots of laughter.

I had always planned to be in Chile for NYE. What better way to celebrate this new life I’ve created? Besides, Viña del Mar is famous for its fireworks show on the water. I couldn’t miss it!

I was honored that Marta invited me to join the NYE celebration with her family. I felt like such a part of this place I have come to call home. Though I had brought some little kid germs home with me from my U.S. holiday trip (and so was not feeling 100%), I had a wonderful time. I felt surrounded by love and happiness and hope. After much food, wine and good conversation, we started to move around 11:30. Everyone grabbed their bottle of champagne, plastic glasses that had previously seen service as ice cream sundae holders and our 12 grapes (x 6 people) before heading to the beach.

The streets were not shut down completely, but the people pretty much shut them down with their presence. Yet, it didn’t feel overcrowded. This wasn’t New York City at 4th of July where it is simply a crush of people. This felt more like a (much larger, granted) local fireworks show that the whole town had shown up for.

We pushed our way all the way to the shoreline until the sand squished in my shoes. You can imagine how beautiful it was – all the lights in the sky, the entire beach full of people holding champagne bottles.

The fireworks were fantastic, and I admit I’ve never enjoyed a fireworks show more, surrounded by my new friends – who insisted they get their hug at midnight! Well, OK, maybe that time Lucy and I talked our way to front row seats at the NYC 4th of July fireworks show oh-so-many-years-ago. But this one was pretty great.

Apologies for no pictures this time – I was happy just to be standing! But I did find a video of it, so you can check out the show here:fireworks in Viña del Mar.

Of course, the party only STARTS at midnight in Chile. Once again, they all look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that in the U.S. the party mostly ENDS at midnight. Cristian and I headed to Valparaíso. Every bus was packed to overflowing, and it seemed everyone had the same idea we did. We finally found one, just to have the bus driver dump all of us unceremoniously on the sidewalk about a 15-minute walk short of our destination. The crowds here definitely reminded me of NYC. No worries though, we persevered and soon found ourselves at his friend’s apartment where there was alcohol and dancing. We stayed until 5 AM, at which point I took my-yellow-underwear-shod-self home and crashed. I could not have asked for a better entrance to this New Year.

And you know what? In this place where it didn’t matter at all, I got my kiss at midnight, from someone I never expected to meet but am so very glad that I did.

 

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