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by Julia Sneden

 As the Christmas cards piled up in our little red-and-green basket, I ignored the urge to count the number of times we were wished A Happy Millennium. Its a phrase that seems absurd to me, even though I know that it springs from the cheerfulness of friends who wish us well. How can a millennium, which is merely a period of time, be happy? And if those friends mean "may you be happy during the new millennium," I wonder if theyve considered how hard it would be to be happy for the whole thousand years. Frankly, I expect to be crabby and miserable once I hit the age of 100, never mind 1,063, which is how old Id be in the year 3000 if by some unhappy accident I managed to live that long.
      And then, of course, there is Have a Merry Christmas. I am as guilty as the next person of tossing out that time-honored phrase, without really thinking about it. Again, Christmas refers to a period of time December 25 to January 6, in most American churches when we celebrate religious convictions or family traditions. In itself, a time period cant be happy or sad; it just is. And if youre supposed to hope for sustained personal merriment throughout the Christmas time period, well, good luck. Surely at some point the cream will curdle, or cousin Ralph will knock over Aunt Mathildas treasured vase, or someone will mention politics. 
     It seems a bit excessive to wish anyone non-stop happiness. How would one even know that is was happiness, without an occasional dash of sorrow or anger or embarrassment, just for comparison?
 Yes, I know that it doesnt do to get over-particular about Merry Christmas or Happy New Year. A body needs to concentrate on the intent, not the mechanics of such phrases. But now that I think about it, I can see that Have a Merry Christmas and Have a Happy New Year! are probably the granddaddies of that ubiquitous modern phrase: Have a nice day! or even worse, just Have a good one! 
     I guess Im curmudgeonly, but when people tell me to have a good one, I find myself longing to reply: Well, Ill try to find some bright moments in it. Perhaps I am worse than curmudgeonly. Perhaps I am a picky Old Poop. When I was sixteen, that is certainly what I would have thought of someone like me. Back then, Have a Happy New Year was rich with promise, because New Years Eve was a really Big Deal. All that mattered at New Years was the party plan. 
     Remember when the most important thing in your life was who might ask you out for New Years Eve? Even more important was who might be kissing you at midnight. (I still think of 1957 as the year I didnt have a date. I found myself on the west coast, and my boyfriend was on the east coast. I think I sat up playing cribbage with my grandmother or something, and tried not to cry). 
     The question of my date may have been important back then, but oddly enough, nowadays I find that I remember those New Years evenings by what I wore, rather than by my escort. For instance, there was the black velvet boat neck top with a dropped waist taffeta skirt, ballerina length; the fire-engine-red strapless faille ball gown; the dreamy concoction of winter-white soft wool, embroidered in blue and silver; and best of all, the smashing black taffeta cocktail dress with jet beading on a net insert around a scoop neck, and almost no back. It was the first dress I ever bought all by myself, and I was astonished by my own daring. 
     With every dressy thing we wore in those days, there were rhinestones, of course: necklace, bracelet, earrings, and a sparkly bobby pin to hold back fly-away hair. There were silver or gold shoes with cruel little straps that pinched like the devil but looked terrific, and heels so high that my ankles wobble just remembering them.
      Marriage and children changed all the frivolous times. New Years is not a holiday that takes young children into account. One either pays for a sitter and goes to parties where there is lots of forced gaiety (as if spending all that money for a sitter made having fun imperative), or one stays home, possibly having over some friends who bring their children along and put them down in your bed. The old, lighthearted days are over. 
     For awhile, we were lucky enough to have a group of friends who enjoyed each others company as well as a good meal. We would share out the cooking, and sit down to a dinner around 11pm, so that just about midnight we got to the dessert and champagne. Someone usually noted the time; our glasses raised, we hailed the turn of the year, and got on with the gateau regent aux marrons. It was restrained and elegant, and we felt very chic.
      About the time our sons were old enough to stay awake until midnight, their father decided he was too old. For a few years the boys and I resorted to blowing up a lot of balloons and popping them at midnight, which was loud enough to satisfy their need for celebration, but not loud enough to wake their father. It felt very unchic, but it worked in its own goofy way.
      These days, I am happy to ignore the whole business, and crawl into bed almost as early as John does. We still have kind friends who invite us to their parties, but rather than go and sit like sleep deprived zombies, we regret with thanks as we admit to being senior stay-at-homes. This year, however, we will have to stay awake even at home, because a beloved former student will be wielding one of the giant puppets in Times Square, and we have promised to watch for him on television. Id cheat and tape it, but he tells us he will call us from Times Square on his cell phone.
      As I said, Im curmudgeonly. Ill grant that its fun to see the year 2000 come along. Im sure I will smile when I make the mistake of writing dates starting with 19, at least for awhile. As a Picky Old Poop, however, I find it easy to resist the hype, and I have no interest whatsoever in all the predictions and doomsayers. I assume that if the computers go berserk, the people who thought them up will be smart enough to figure out how to correct the glitches. One hopes they will do so before the missiles launch, but in any event, thats out of our hands. (Come to think of it, when was it ever in our hands?) 
     In the long run, 2000 is just a number on a calendar, and that calendar is just one of many in this world. After all, the Chinese have been keeping a calendar for something like 4600 years, and if we look at the Hebrew calendar, next fall it will be the year 5761.  If  you think about Earths own calendar, the number of trips around the sun since this terrestrial ball was formed make 2000 look like a split second.  Even if you think biblically, 2000 gets whittled down to size: for a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday (or) as a watch in the night 
      I think that Im glad not to be sixteen this millennial New Years Eve, because Im sure that Id feel obliged to whoop it up big-time. (Lacking perspective, sixteen often opts for enthusiasm.) Instead, this Picky Old Poop will be happy to sit comfortably in her bathrobe, watching for a glimpse of her friend on the TV. Possibly the P.O.P will even be asleep in her chair, in which case the friends phone call from Times Square will wake her up in time to see the ball drop. 
     It sounds to me like the perfect way to handle what will, I hope, be a non-event. Really, as 2000 comes in, I have only one regret: Id surely like to be able to wear that backless black cocktail dress again. It was a killer!



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