Every year on Dec. 31, the approach of midnight finds us drawing a line in time. The way we do this varies — we eat black-eyed peas, or fling open the windows, or run into an icy ocean — but the idea is always the same. On this night, we put something behind us and seal it off, so it is part of the past. And then we try to begin again.
It is difficult to imagine any year when our need of this ritual has been greater. Many of us have lost those dearest to us, and absorbed those losses in isolation. Livelihoods have been wiped away like vapor from a window. And yet, without the fireworks, the giddiness of crowds, we have never been so constrained in our rituals.
That does not mean we are not celebrating. Inside lighted rooms, we will raise glasses to the people who sacrificed for us, to the triumphant performance of our health care workers, and to a thousand small kindnesses already receding from memory. Yeah, yeah, the end of a year may be an illusion, just a way to trick ourselves into keeping going. But we made it.
Asia and pacific roundup
For much of China it looked set to be a subdued New Year’s Eve, as the customary light shows, fireworks and temple festivals were suspended or canceled as officials focused on controlling a smattering of small new outbreaks of the coronavirus, most notably in the capital Beijing and the northern city of Shenyang.
Yet there was one notable exception: Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December 2019.
The central Chinese city that spent the beginning of 2020 closed off to the world under harsh lockdowns went ahead with boisterous festivities, including a concert by the city’s philharmonic orchestra; a discussion by the famed talk-show host Luo Zhenyu; a light show along the Yangtze River, which runs through Wuhan; and a cyberpunk electronic music festival.
Shanghai Disneyland had said it was going ahead with fireworks, but Beijing and Guangzhou canceled annual light shows.
Even with many events canceled, life in China, where infections are few, is far closer to normal than other places. Small gatherings and meals are sure to continue, as the country’s population awaits rules on what will happen during Chinese New Year, a major holiday based on the lunar calendar which will take place in February. Usually hundreds of millions head home to visit family, eat meals and shoot off fireworks, but already some provinces have warned people not to make the trip this year.
Elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific:
The small Pacific island nation of Samoa became one of the first places in the world to welcome the new year, 19 hours ahead of the Eastern United States. On the nearby island of Tonga, an overnight curfew that has been in place since March as part of the country’s coronavirus response was temporarily lifted for the night. Tonga is one of the few countries that has recorded no coronavirus cases, but gatherings are still limited and residents are required to socially distance.
The annual fireworks display at Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, which normally attracts over a million people, was mainly seen on TV or online, as the government limited access to the area. Outside the Sydney Opera House, musicians performed to an empty venue, live-streamed around the country.
In Japan, worshipers traditionally flood into shrines and temples on New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year. But in an effort to limit crowds, the gates at the popular Meiji Shrine in Tokyo were closed at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
In India, the New Year has already begun. In some of the country’s biggest cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, hotels and bars were shuttered at 11 p.m., and large gatherings were prohibited, The Associated Press reported. In Mumbai, drones scoured the city, keeping close tabs on the whereabouts of residents.
Thousands of spectators attended a fireworks show in Taipei, Taiwan, where the mood was celebratory. Taiwan has been among the few success stories during the coronavirus pandemic, having recorded a total of only 799 cases and seven deaths.
The usually rowdy New Year’s Eve revelry in the Philippines, punctuated by firecrackers and the firing of guns into the air, has been muted this year, with nearly all local governments banning the practice in order to prevent injuries and because many people are not in the mood to celebrate.
Guam, a U.S. territory that sits between Japan and Australia, was the first populated area of the United States to leave 2020 by the wayside. But there were no open bars, nightclubs or fireworks shows to welcome the new year. Grocery sales of meat and alcohol were up, suggesting that many of the island’s 170,000 residents were ringing in 2021 in the comfort of their own homes.
By 11 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, the supply of craft ale at liquor stores in the popular beach town of Raglan was already somewhat depleted, as throngs of New Zealanders prepared to be among the first to bid farewell to a thoroughly unusual year.
With the threat of the pandemic all but banished from its shores, at least for now, New Zealanders have approached the holiday season much as they ordinarily do.
From mid-December, the country slides into a kind of weekslong summer daze, as city workers flee for scenic spots along the coasts and countryside. Schools close until February, public radio adopts summer programming — less news, more tunes and cricket commentary — and dry cleaners and cafes on even Auckland’s busiest streets shut for weeks at a time.
On New Year’s Eve itself, Aucklanders gathered at beachside neighborhoods to watch a five-minute midnight firework display over the harbor. Groups of friends toasted the new year, which arrived at 6 a.m. Eastern, at barbecues at rural holiday homes. And in Gisborne, on the east coast, thousands of revelers together counted down to 2021 at Rhythm and Vines, which bills itself as “the first festival in the world to welcome in the first sunrise of the New Year.”
Masks remained optional throughout, and were rarely worn.
To stave off the threat of another coronavirus outbreak over the summer months, the New Zealand government has introduced improved Bluetooth-powered contact tracing and pushed to maintain high levels of hand-washing. Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s director-general of health, made a video appearance to cheering crowds at Rhythm and Vines and other events across New Zealand, as he urged them to “unite against Covid-19,” over booming dubstep-inflected beats.
The promise of a warm New Zealand summer, along with its Covid-free status, has lured many New Zealanders overseas back home over the Christmas and New Year break for weeks or months at a time.
After being released from two weeks’ mandatory hotel quarantine, Jack Murphy, 33, an advertising planner based in Dublin, spent the evening with friends from high school at a holiday home in Raglan.
Experiencing the pandemic in Ireland, which is set to enter another strict lockdown, had cast summer in New Zealand into even sharper relief, he said. “It’s made all the more special by how privileged and lucky we are to be here, and to come home.”
In the hierarchy of holiday traditions, there is but one that combines mystery, allure, romance and potentially confetti: the New Year’s Eve midnight kiss. It also offers the benefit, according to superstition, of preventing a year of loneliness.
What could be a better way to end a year of trials and tribulations than to lose yourself in the eyes of a beautiful stranger as you count down the last seconds of 2020 and celebrate with a smooch?
“That would be an absolutely not,” said John O’Horo, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “Kissing a stranger would be pretty much at the top of the list of things that could have potential for spread.”
But, you might be thinking, what if I’ve been vaccinated? Still no.
What if I had the virus already? You probably shouldn’t risk it.
What if my partner and I wear masks as we smush our faces together? A slight improvement, Dr. O’Horo said, but still not advisable. (Experts recommend a combination or social distancing and mask wearing to prevent spread).
Some historians trace the kissing tradition to Saturnalia, a days-long Roman pagan festival held in mid-December. Later German and English folklore said that the first person you come in contact with in the new year “dictated that year’s destiny,” according to “Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl.”
The superstitious say a kiss — or lack thereof — could mean 12 months of continued affection or loneliness, according to Pete Geiger, the editor of the Farmer’s Almanac.
A frequent plotline in popular culture, like “When Harry Met Sally,” the tradition is widespread. In 1863, The Times reported that ”hearty kisses” were exchanged “like rolls of labial musketry” at the stroke of midnight at a New York City celebration. At the Times Square festivities for 2011, Nivea distributed 30,000 samples of lip balm to revelers.
But this year might be the time to break from tradition, said Frank Esper, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, who noted that kissing a stranger goes against the “holy trinity” of social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing.
“I’m going to start crying, sorry.”
Carla Hall, tearing up at the decades of memories she has watching Pasadena’s Rose Parade, which has been canceled this New Year’s Day.
“I give 2020 two stars.”
“I’m tired of being in lockdown.”
“I was thinking: ‘Oh my god, I’ll actually have to uninvite people, how do I choose?’”
Morgana Mountfort-Davies, who organized a New Year’s Eve party with 22 guests, lamenting new rules in Melbourne, Australia, that limit gatherings to 15 people.
“We’re almost out of 2020 — just breathe.”
“Covid loves a crowd. So please leave the parties for later in the year.”
Stephen Powis, the national medical director of National Health Service England, urging revelers to restrain themselves.
With parks, ice-rinks, bars and other popular venues for New Year’s Eve in Moscow ordered to shut down before midnight on Thursday because of the coronavirus pandemic, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia kept one holiday tradition alive by delivering a televised address to the nation.
Lamenting that a “dangerous new virus has turned upside down our usual life, work and study,” Mr. Putin struck an unusually somber tone in his annual message, first broadcast to residents in Russia’s easternmost regions on the Pacific, which greeted the start of the new year nine hours ahead of Moscow.
Russians usually celebrate New Year’s Eve, a time of joyous festivities that combine gift-giving, feasting and heavy drinking, with boisterous gatherings of family and friends. But this year, Mr. Putin reminded his country, “not everyone is at the New Year’s table now. There are still many people in the hospital.”
More upbeat was Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader who survived a nerve agent attack in August during a visit to Siberia, an attack that he believes was ordered by Mr. Putin. He posted a picture of himself and his family, all now in Germany, on Instagram and noted that, despite all the bad news in 2020, “I was lucky and this year was not bad for me.” He added: “The prospects for 2021 are also interesting.”
To help contain the virus, Moscow’s city government ordered Red Square and other gathering places closed hours before midnight, but the Russian capital and other cities across the vast country still planned extravagant firework displays. Starting in Vladivostok, a port city on the Pacific, exploding rockets lit up the skies across Russia as the new year rolled west toward Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost region on the Baltic Sea.
The streets of central Moscow, usually jammed and buzzing on New Year’s Eve, were eerily quiet Thursday. Restaurants and bars were ordered to close at 11 p.m. Mr. Putin — in an attempt at a gift to the people after a long year — had called on Russia’s regional governors to make Thursday a day off work, which they quickly did. As a result, many Muscovites left the city early, rather than waiting for Jan 1., normally the start of a long national holiday.
“Unfortunately, the epidemic has not yet been completely stopped. The fight against it does not stop for a minute,” Mr. Putin said in his television address. “Today it is very important to believe in ourselves, not to retreat in the face of difficulties, to preserve our unity, this is the basis of our common success in the future.”
This year, for the first time in decades, Times Square will be closed to the public on New Year’s Eve. Only production workers and dozens of selected frontline workers and their families will be permitted near the stage.
On Wednesday, New York City police officials urged the public to stay home. “There are absolutely no spectators allowed in Times Square,” Chief Terence A. Monahan, the top uniformed member, said at a news conference.
“Don’t even attempt to come down there and watch it,” he added.
As it does every year, the city will close streets in the area, and police officers will operate checkpoints to prevent access. But instead of letting in visitors in drips, all uninvited guests will be turned away, with pedestrians limited starting at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
“Anyone that starts to gather, they’re going to be told to move along,” Chief Monahan said.
Two blocks around Times Square will be used for this year’s celebration, a much smaller footprint than usual. Eight-by-eight-foot pens will be spaced on the streets, serving as viewing areas for about 40 workers who have kept the city and the country running safely and smoothly, and who have been invited to bring their families along to celebrate.
For those at home, the TV networks will project the image of a Times Square transformed by the pandemic, one without the throngs of revelers in glittering gear who wait in the cold for hours to take part in a national spectacle. “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” will still rock on ABC. In a year without party banter, Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will again offer their New Year’s Eve buddy comedy act on CNN.
Joe Schroeder, a bar owner in Key West, Fla., faced a dilemma.
For 23 years, his New Year’s Eve tradition in the southernmost city of the continental United States has drawn thousands of people from around the world who flock to see this tourist town’s version of New York City’s ball drop: a drag queen named Sushi, who descends from an eight-foot red stiletto at the stroke of midnight. But people were dying around the world, and to help stop the scourge locally, the city known for its alcohol-infused nightlife imposed a dreaded 10 p.m. curfew.
Hotel bookings throughout the city dropped by at least 10 percent. The party appeared doomed.
Looking to the comedian Red Skelton for wisdom, Mr. Schroeder moved the midnight celebration up by three hours.
“Just like it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, we say: ‘It’s midnight somewhere,’” Mr. Schroeder said. “It’s New Year’s somewhere in the world at 9 p.m. I think the Canary Islands.”
Actually, it’s the South Georgia and Sandwich Islands, a British territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean.
Much to the dismay of many would-be revelers, the shoe and its bedazzled occupant have been moved to the back of the Bourbon Street Pub, and the 9 p.m. shoe-drop will occur before a private ticket-paying audience of about 200 people.
Mr. Schroeder stressed that the head count will allow for plenty of social distancing, because the outdoor venue fits more than 1,000 people.
“Some people hate the idea, and some people love the idea,” said Gary Marion, 53, the female impersonator who headlines the spectacle every year. “I figure no matter what, there’s going to be people in town. There’s going to be drinking, whether it’s from 6 to 10 p.m., or at 2 a.m.”
Mr. Marion started working at the pub as a janitor in the 1990s. His job description grew to include sewing curtains and performing in drag. The first New Year’s Eve event featuring him as Sushi took place in 1997 and included unfriendly visits by the police and a city commissioner in her bathrobe, who was dragged out of bed to determine what the fuss was about.
Mr. Marion now runs a nightly drag queen cabaret across the street. He spent the pandemic sewing masks to help support the drag queens during the lockdown, when the bar was closed. It closed again for two weeks last month, when at least five of the 14 drag queens contracted the coronavirus, he said.
For New Year’s, Sushi will wear a 1920s Chinese ceremonial hand-embroidered gown, which Mr. Marion cut up and repurposed.
“The shoe must go on,” Mr. Schroeder said.
The only way to celebrate New Year’s safely this year may well be to gather outside — masked, and at a safe distance from other people. But a dreary weather forecast for the next few days might make that possibility scant for much of the country.
From North Texas to northeast Michigan, a wintry mix of snow and freezing rain is likely to arrive overnight on Thursday, the National Weather Service said. And starting at the Florida Panhandle up to the Ohio Valley and southern Appalachians, at least two inches of rain is possible. Large parts of the East Coast can expect rain both on Thursday and Friday, and in the Pacific Northwest, the Cascades will see snow on New Year’s Eve.
The weather forecast for some major cities is not looking too promising, either. Chicago will be hit with a mix of snow and freezing rain late Thursday evening into Friday. New York will see some warmer weather, with a chance of rain throughout the day Thursday, then again Friday.
But good news is still in store for Los Angeles and Miami, two cities expecting a largely dry, warm and sunny start to the New Year. Lucky for them.
The New York City Sheriff’s Office, which has been the city’s primary agency enforcing coronavirus-related restrictions at bars and restaurants, will have additional deputies working on New Year’s Eve to monitor and break up any illicit parties, the sheriff, Joe Fucito, said on Wednesday.
Throughout the year, sheriff’s deputies have been responsible for breaking up dozens of large parties that violate New York State’s pandemic rules on gatherings. Since the spring, deputies have busted a crowded sex party in Queens and a fight club in the Bronx and cracked down on a bar in Staten Island, a conflict that drew national headlines.
New Year’s Eve in New York City has long been a night for crowded parties at bars and clubs, but the pandemic has upended nightlife. Many venues are not permitted to open, and restaurants and bars are only allowed to serve outdoors but must end service at 10 p.m.
Sheriff Fucito said deputies would focus on enforcing the rules in places that violate a number of state and city laws, including prohibitions against onstage pyrotechnics, overcrowding and the illegal sale of alcohol.
On Wednesday evening, many New Yorkers were running errands to prepare for a quiet New Year’s Eve at home. Mattie Weatherby was at a Party City in Manhattan buying crowns, hats, beads and plastic champagne flutes. Ms. Weatherby said that she and her fiancé would make dinner — maybe a roasted chicken — and drink champagne with two other couples. She said they were regularly tested for the coronavirus, adding, “We’re trying to be responsible.”
Nearby liquor stores seemed mostly quiet compared to the bustling Party City. Alexis Raia, the manager of Chelsea Wine Country, said her shop had just 156 sales by Wednesday night, compared with 216 on Dec. 30 last year. Many of the purchases were individual bottles of champagne, rather than the usual cases of it.
Ali Muhana, an employee at Wine on Nine, said his store had not sold even “30 percent of what we were selling last year.”
“We already saw with Christmas, one of our big days, it didn’t turn out at all,” Mr. Muhana said. “I don’t think New Year’s is going to turn out any better.”
How to commemorate the end of a year of widespread unemployment, racial unrest and political animosity, not to mention an ongoing pandemic? If you’re at home looking for a festive yet socially distanced way to bid farewell to 2020, consider taking a virtual trip around the world.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, which typically involve processions, fireworks and singing, will be held online. In Paris, the composer-performer Jean-Michel Jarre will host a free livestreamed concert from a studio near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. And you can virtually head to Rio de Janeiro for a light show along Copacabana beach at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Tomorrowland, a Belgian music festival franchise, is hosting a party with performers including David Guetta, the French D.J. and producer. Steve Aoki, the D.J., musician and music producer, will headline an event streamed by Grand Park in Los Angeles. Justin Bieber, KISS and Chris Potter, a jazz saxophonist, are among the other performers selling tickets to virtual concerts.
In New York City, a crystal ball will still drop from One Times Square, complete with confetti and “Auld Lang Syne.” A livestream of the event starts at 6 p.m. Eastern, and it will be covered on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” hosted by Ryan Seacrest on ABC, and “CNN’s New Year’s Eve,” hosted by Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen.
If you’re looking for something less glamorous and more in keeping with the 2020 aesthetic, check out the bologna drop in Lebanon, Pa., or the giant potato drop in Boise, Idaho, or watch Marshall Muskrat, a stuffed muskrat who will be wearing a mask in addition to his signature top hat and cape, drop in Princess Anne, Md., at midnight.
Whether you’re ringing in the new year with Champagne and caviar or with a lucky plate of black-eyed peas and greens, the Cooking staff at The Times has compiled recipe ideas for a celebration at home.
Start the night off by mixing yourself a Grown-Up Granita, Mark Bittman’s take on the slushy Italian dessert usually made from water, sugar and fruit. In this version, you mix a good-quality sorbet with gin. Pour into champagne flutes, top with Prosecco, garnish with mint leaves and serve immediately.
Another option is this Champagne Cocktail, a recipe Mr. Bittman calls “appropriately celebratory and bittersweet.” Stir bitters, lemon juice and maple syrup in a flute. When combined, add the Champagne.
Simple Steak au Poivre is easy and elegant. Another great option, with ingredients you may already have, is Alison Roman’s Caramelized Shallot Pasta, one of our most popular recipes of the year. Any type of pasta will do.
New Year’s Eve Sweets
This Lisbon Chocolate Cake is a dense-but-not-heavy, brownielike cake topped with a whipped chocolate ganache and a substantial dusting of cocoa. For something lighter, the Meyer Lemon Tart, writes Amanda Hesser, is the ideal way to showcase the fruit’s fragrance and flavor. (Regular lemons will work well in this recipe, too, but you’ll likely want to add a bit more sugar.)
The Hangover Cure
When you wake up on Jan. 1, we recommend starting the day with a green juice by Matthew Kenney, an acclaimed raw-food chef in California. Later, to help with any hangovers, try this baked macaroni and cheese recipe by Julia Moskin.
First there was Thanksgiving, when some families who gathered for turkey and stuffing also shared the coronavirus, causing cases to spike in some places and further taxing the nation’s already stretched hospitals.
Then there was Christmas weekend, when Americans crowded airports in numbers not seen since the start of the pandemic. Anyone who caught the virus then would probably still be in the incubation phase or just starting to feel symptoms now, so it’s too soon yet to gauge the full impact of people’s Christmas activities.
Now comes New Year’s Eve, an occasion for celebrating in large crowds, often among strangers, drinking and reveling and uttering a primal yell when the clock strikes twelve.
In other words, it’s a holiday tailor-made for superspreader events. And it arrives just as the first cases of a new, more contagious variant of the virus have been detected in the United States, in ways that suggest it is already circulating widely.
“It’s in a small community south of Denver, so it’s reasonable to think that it could already be in New York City,” said Dr. Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
New Year’s Eve, he said, “risks accelerating the introduction of any variants that are more transmissible into communities, and we have reason to think that those are beginning to emerge.”
The risk of transmission rises with the size of the gathering, of course, but also with the amount of alcohol consumed, Dr. Hanage said.
People who drink “become disinhibited,” he noted, “and when they get disinhibited, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior.”
The safest way to see in the new year is at home, with no one outside your household, Dr. Hanage said, but if people do gather in greater numbers, they can decrease the risk somewhat by doing it outdoors and by wearing masks.
“It doesn’t sound very fun or easy to drink champagne through,” he said, “but wearing a mask is going to provide another barrier to potential transmission.”