My mother grew up in a very large family with thirteen siblings, most of whom got married and had kids of their own. When it came time for celebrations, there would often be over a hundred people, when you counted all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. The biggest of all the celebrations was New Year’s Eve.
Back in the 1970’s, our annual New Year’s Eve party would start at around 8:00pm, in a hall that was part of the home town church my mother and father were married in. While my uncle played the fiddle, and my cousin played the accordion, the whole family would dance and party the night away.
Of course, there was always some alcohol for the adults, and more than a few would have a bit too much, but they were always a fun loving bunch. All of us kids would have a blast running and playing in the huge hall.
At the stroke of midnight, the music would stop, and every person would go around the hall, wishing every other person, one by one, a Happy New Year. With a family that large, it would take almost an hour. Then at around 1:00AM, when most sane people would start to think about going home, everyone headed downstairs into a large dining hall, and ate a big meal.
It was like a huge picnic, but indoors and in the dead of winter, with all the Coleman coolers, disposable plates, and plastic cutlery. There were multiple ovens and stoves and strange as it seems being way past midnight, the smell of meat pies (tourtières), and other traditional holiday treats was in the air.
We all sat down along a long line of picnic tables, one great big extended family, chatting happily and eating our very early morning meal. At long last, around 2:30AM, most of the families would pack up, and drive home. By 3:30AM, most of us were tucked into bed, exhausted by the hours of dancing, drinking, and feasting.
I say “most of us were tucked into bed” because every New Year’s Eve, there was always one branch of my mother’s family that just kept right on partying. Two of my mother’s sisters had married two brothers from the Veilleux family. Roughly translated, the French name “Veilleux” can mean “one who likes to party” or, more literally, “one who stayed up late”.
Indeed, these two Veilleux families would continue to party after our post-midnight meal. Instead of going home, they would travel to every relative’s house, waking up each family by singing traditional French folk songs on the porch, while merrily ringing the doorbell.
These Veillieux’s would then try to convince each family they woke up to join them, and continue the singing and dancing at the next family’s house. My own family would have been barely sleeping for two or three hours when our doorbell was rung at about 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning.
I can’t remember if my parents ever joined in, but one particular year, my parents were so comatose they never answered the door, and the singing on our porch got so loud, the neighbors called the police.
As if this was not enough of a marathon, on my father’s side of the family, they celebrated on New Year’s Day, starting at around mid-afternoon, until around 10:00PM that evening. With only four or five hours of sleep, we would have to wake up and prepare for that event with bags under our eyes, not at all feeling like going to yet another party.
For many years running, my family had to endure two parties, and over twelve hours of drinking, dancing and eating, in less than a twenty-four hour period and with not nearly enough sleep in between. I’m not quite sure how my parents survived it all, but I for one am not cut from the same cloth: Ever since I moved out of my parent’s house, my New Year’s Eve celebrations are done in the privacy of my own quiet home.
Now blessed as I am with a loving wife and child, we continue our quiet New Year’s celebrations together, playing games, baking cookies, and watching movies, before the hectic pace of life takes over again.
I wish you all good health, and good luck for the New Year!