The South’s Flawed Search for Renewal

In America,  means new resolutions to lose weight and make better life choices. Yet by the time February rolls around, most of these lofty proclamations have crashed down to earth. At midnight on December 31st in cities all over the country, ball drops and fireworks bring in the New Year with celebration. In the most famous celebration of all in New York City’s Times Square, droves of people fill every inch of concrete and stare at the sky to watch the spectacular 700-pound orb fall.

According to The History Channel, some creative Americans have turned the ball drop into a phenomenon that people have to see to believe, dropping things like pickles in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, and possums in Tallapoosa, Georgia. But along with the innocent and sometimes quirky traditions that accent the holiday, the ever-present powers of sin and vice compel hordes of people to drink until the world blurs and their inhibitions with it. Germany felt the full force of this in 2016, when, in a time meant for second chances and new life, 2,000 men allegedly sexually assaulted 1,200 women.

In my childhood, my family and I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee every year to join in the festivities. Forget the lights and the music; I was just excited to be allowed to stay up past my bedtime. Gatlinburg boasts a space needle, an obvious rip-off of the one in Seattle, but I digress. My family always went to the ball drop at the needle. Never one for crowds, I would feel my throat constrict from claustrophobia, but I would choke it down.

I remember seeing women dancing in the bar balconies, begging people to throw beads at them in exchange for a quick lift of their shirts. Growing up in a conservative family, this lewd behavior confused and troubled me. It did not, however, seem to bother either of my brothers.

“Mom, why are they doing that?” I would ask.

My mom would just shake her head. “Those girls are having too much fun tonight. Tomorrow, they will probably regret showing their business to God and everybody.”

With each passing year, the chaotic scene seemed more and more bizarre to me. How did standing in the cold with a bunch of strangers cheering for a shiny ball mean I would have a good year? In spite of my resolutions and good intentions, I still struggled, unsure of my place in this life.

Nowadays, I spend New Year’s Eve in the comfort of my own bed, laughing at the fakeness of Ryan Seacrest on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve as I consume excessive amounts of sugar, my vice of choice. As I get older, I realize my frustration stems from the fact that life’s changes aren’t determined by the switch to the next calendar year. Growth in my life has required day-to-day commitment to my goals. In this time of political and social unrest, of course it’s tempting to retreat into fantasies of a brighter, better world with the turn of the hand on a clock, but that isn’t how life works. Still, New Year’s does get one thing right: To keep going, we must move forward.

Happy 2018, everyone!



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