Almost all societies have celebrated the change in the year, no matter what calendar they’ve followed, from ancient Babylonia to imperial Rome. Humans like moments that impart meaning to the passage of time, reassuring us that we’re still here, and we like elevating these moments with reverence and good-luck rituals. Inevitably, those bring misconceptions, perhaps the biggest of which is that what you’re doing on New Year’s Eve matters in the slightest. Here are five other common myths.
Myth No. 1: It’s the most dangerous night to drive.
The winter holidays are risky times for driving, with more cars on the roads, often-adverse weather and a higher-than-usual number of people making merry with alcohol. "It's the worst day of the year for fatal crashes involving impaired drivers," an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spokesperson told the New York Times in 2011. Commonwealth Law Group declares, "Between 6 p.m. on December 31 and 6 a.m. on January 1 are the most dangerous hours of the year to drive or ride in a car on our nation's roadways."
But according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute, which analyzed crash deaths between 2010 and 2014, the Fourth of July is consistently the deadliest day of the year on U.S. roads. On Independence Day, an average of 118.4 people die in crashes, the report noted, adding, “This is 28 more deaths than the overall average daily toll during 2010-14.” Other analyses also place the Fourth of July at the top of the list.
That doesn’t mean New Year’s is safe, of course, especially if you’re on foot: Pedestrians are 1.7 times more likely to die after being hit by a car in the wee hours of New Year’s Day than at any other time.
Myth No. 2: Christmas is over by New Year’s Eve.
New Year's Eve feels like the logical end of the Christmas season: Santa's come and gone, the Christmas tree is nearly dead and the decorations "look out of place as the New Year loses its shiny newness," as one online holiday shop puts it. Yahoo suggests that "Christmas is over" once "the gifts have been unwrapped [and] the eggnog has been drunk."
According to the Catholic liturgical calendar, however, the official end of the Christmas season - the famous “12 days” from the song - is the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration of the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus. That date is typically given as Jan. 6, with the celebration occurring on the nearest Sunday. In the medieval Christian tradition, Christmastide didn’t end until Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of the Lord, on Feb. 2. And even now, the Orthodox Church, which still goes by the Julian calendar of ancient Rome, celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7.
Some people celebrate something that looks a lot like Christmas on New Year's Eve. In Russia, for example, Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, a white-bearded Santa Claus-type, drops off presents as the calendar changes over.
Myth No. 3: New Year’s resolutions are useless.
Last year, 37 percent of Americans surveyed in a YouGov poll listed “eat healthier” as their New Year’s resolution; the same share listed “save money” and “get more exercise.” The common wisdom says they’re all likely to fail: A 2012 Inc. article, for instance, promises to explain “Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work.” One frequently cited statistic holds that only 8 percent of us manage to keep our resolutions.
But according to several studies, people who make New Year’s resolutions are more likely to achieve them than people who have similar aims but make no declarations. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2002 found that between resolvers and non-resolvers interested in changing something about their lives - losing weight, quitting smoking or exercising more, for example - 46 percent of the resolvers were successful six months later, compared with just 4 percent of the non-resolvers. And a 2017 Statistic Brain survey found that 44.8 percent of participants kept up their resolutions at least six months, adding, “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.”
Myth No. 4: Plans are key to a good New Year’s Eve.
"New Year's Eve is one of those nights that you want to have plans set in stone weeks in advance," an article on Bustle claims. There are thousands of guides telling you how to do just that, from Eventbrite's "20 On-Trend New Year's Eve Event Theme Ideas for 2018" to Hello Giggles' "11 New Year's Eve ideas for couples." The point is clear: Get it together or start 2019 off on the wrong foot.
But if you’ve ever sat on your couch on New Year’s Eve, binge-watching Netflix, take heart: You probably would have had a terrible time if you had made a lot of effort to celebrate. As Ana Swanson shows in a 2015 Washington Post article, there’s reason to believe that trying hard to have a fun New Year’s Eve actually makes it far less fun. She points to a 1999 study in which researchers surveyed 475 people about their New Year’s Eve plans. When they followed up after the holiday, they found that 83 percent of their subjects were disappointed in how their evening went. Further, the more people tried to make it a fun night - planning a big party vs. a smaller gathering, for instance - the more dissatisfied they were.
More recent studies underscore the idea that trying to be happy is the surest way to be miserable. For example, research published in the March 2018 issue of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review found that pursuing happiness made people feel like they had less free time, making them feel more unhappy - surely an important consideration on an evening that’s all about the ticking of the clock.
Myth No. 5: New Year’s Eve is the year’s drunkest night.
As Vice put it, "The evening of New Year's is the closest thing to returning to college, when getting blotto drunk is totally kosher." One parenting blogger writes that she opts to stay home because it's hard to find a cab "on the drunkest night of the year."
In practice, however, plenty of other holidays are similarly tipsy. BACtrack, the maker of a smartphone breathalyzer, analyzed data from 300,000 test results in 2014, finding that though New Year’s Eve 2013 was a big drinking night, it was tied with St. Patrick’s Day at 0.094 percent blood alcohol content. The day after Valentine’s Day blew a 0.092 percent, and Super Bowl weekend ranked high, too.
In recent years, New Year’s Eve has seen another drunken challenger on the rise - Blackout Wednesday. The night before Thanksgiving, according to bar industry analysts, police departments and doctors, is increasingly one of the booziest nights of the year.
Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is an American freelance journalist living in England.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.