I used to think New Year was all about traditions that involved other people. Going out, parties, dinners, eating too much, drinking champagne at midnight, watching fireworks. Talking late into the night until you all fell asleep on someone’s sofa.
Until one year when plans just didn’t come together in time. I was dreading it – wasn’t there something wrong about spending New Year alone? In the end, I had an amazing time. And it was a relief not having to plan, or to travel on packed trains. Or to stand around in crowds for hours without access to a loo.
This year, of course, many more of us will be spending New Year alone – and we may not all feel like celebrating. If you’ve always been with other people, you might be feeling at a loss about what to do. Remember that New Year is symbolically about renewal – new beginnings, and a chance to start afresh. Yes, New Year’s Day is technically just another day. But it can still be nice to recognise the turning of the Gregorian calendar. And to get yourself into a positive mindset to make the most of the longer days that are coming.
I’ve talked to a few people who are used to spending the New Year alone. Here are their favourite ideas – combined with mine – in a list of ten simple rituals to try for a strong start to 2021.
1. Have a clear out
What better time of the year to clear out the clothes, books, gadgets etc that you don’t need any more? You’ll have space for anything new that you buy or get given in 2021. You’ll also feel less weighed down, your place will look tidier, and – if you take your unwanted items to the charity shop – you’ll feel good too. Clearing out can be symbolic as well as practical – try thinking of it as mentally clearing space for the new people and experiences that will come into your life next year.
I know someone who cleans religiously in the week between Christmas and New Year. She puts all of her Christmas decorations away, and cleans the entire house until it sparkles. I’ve never had that much motivation, though I really do understand wanting to start the New Year in a space that looks, feels and smells beautiful. And without a heap of housework to do!
3. Rearrange your living space
We’re all spending a lot of time at home at the moment. Why not start the New Year in a space that feels different and revitalised? Please be careful if moving heavy furniture – but your coffee table could look brilliant in a different place. Giving your space a New Year’s facelift doesn’t have to be as extreme as moving furniture. You could swap some of your photographs for others, or hang your pictures differently. You could also rearrange your kitchen cupboards, get rid of old pot plants in favour of new ones, or change a rug for one that’s a different colour or pattern.
4. Tie up loose ends & choose something new to do
That book you hadn’t quite finished reading? The series that you stopped watching with two episodes to go? New Year’s Eve could be the perfect time to relax and finish everything off. You could even decide what you want to do next year – choose some new books and shows, and even make a start on them. Perfect for a lazy New Year’s Eve day.
5. Go for a walk at dusk and / or at sunrise on New Year’s Day
It can be nice to bookend the year by getting outside for nature walks. For a real sense of the year changing, try getting outside to catch the sunset on New Year’s Eve. Then follow this with sunrise on New Year’s Day. You could pack a Thermos of coffee or hot chocolate, and take some pastries and a warm blanket with you as you sit and watch the sun come up over a brand new year!
6. Hold a midnight vigil
Staying up until midnight is a tradition – and you can still do it when you’re spending New Year alone. There are always New Year’s Eve shows on TV at midnight, and it could be that’s all you need. There are others way to see in the New Year too. You could turn the lights down and pop some fairy lights or candles on a few minutes before midnight, and sit quietly and reflectively as the clock ticks over. You could call / video call a friend and see in the New Year with them. Perhaps with a glass of something traditional and a couple of verses of Auld Lang Syne! If you follow a religion, you could join a midnight service, or say some prayers. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s meaningful for you.
7. Or get an early night, and start the New Year feeling refreshed
Staying up isn’t for everyone, and getting an early night (perhaps after a lovely hot, relaxing bath) should mean you wake up feeling refreshed on New Year’s Day. And just a little bit smug, too, as you’ll be up earlier than almost everyone else and ready to make the most of 1st January.
8. Write letters
It’s been a particularly difficult year, and in some cases our relationships have suffered. Writing letters to those you have unresolved business with can help you process what’s happened and move forward. It doesn’t matter whether or not you send what you’ve written – you can come back to this later. And you can also write to people who aren’t with us any more. The point is to get your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper (or a screen) so that you can process them. Writing is therapeutic and it can be powerful to lay difficult emotional stuff at least partly to rest by the New Year.
9. Reflect on what you’ve learned this year
I really believe that there are lessons to be learnt in most situations, even difficult ones. There can often be silver linings too. Journaling can help you get some perspective on what’s happened this year. As can other forms of reflective practice like video diaries and meditation. You could reflect on what you’ve learnt, what you’re grateful for, the lessons you want to take with you into the following year, the changes you want to make. You could just try listing a few things that you are grateful for.
10. Visualise where you want to be this time next year
You can set New Year’s resolutions, if you like. But we’re notoriously bad at sticking to them – in fact, 80% of us will have given up on our resolutions by the second week in February.
Try one of these ideas instead. This excellent article goes into detail on the ‘systems’ method for forming new habits that stick. I also like visualisation techniques. Instead of writing resolutions, spend a few minutes with your eyes closed forming a picture in your mind of what you want your life to look like by this time next year. Really go into detail. Who are you with? What are you doing? Where are you? How do you feel? Write down a description if it’s helpful. Come back to this exercise each morning, just for 4 – 5 minutes, and each time you have a decision to make. Emotions and visual information are processed in the same part of the brain – imagining your idea future in detail can stimulate emotional responses which can leave you feeling powerfully motivated to make choices that move you closer to it. You may not get there entirely by next year – but you will certainly start to form new habits which move you closer to it.
If you’re spending New Year alone, you don’t have to do anything at all! If you do enjoy the ritual of seeing in the New Year, then there are a few ways to get 2021 off to a peaceful, focused start.
Want to know more about how to live alone and be alone? Our fortnightly newsletter has exclusive content. I’ve also written about spending birthdays and Christmas alone, and about the freedoms of living alone.