How Did New Year’s Eve Become an Alcohol-Fueled Holiday?

By Kelly Fitzgerald Junco 12/27/17

It doesn’t matter that New Year’s Eve is a drinking holiday because any holiday is a drinking holiday when you’re constantly looking for a reason to drink.

A group of people celebrating with champagne

It’s no secret that holidays around the world are infused with alcohol. Whether it’s mimosas on Christmas morning, wine during Thanksgiving dinner, or a champagne toast when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, alcohol is a typical staple at any celebration. For those of us who are sober, it can seem overwhelming at best. It also brings up questions for us, like: why do holidays and alcohol go hand-in-hand? As the end of 2017 approaches, I want to know exactly how New Year’s Even became an alcohol-fueled holiday?

Traditions for celebrating the New Year vary around the world, from eating 12 grapes at midnight, to picking a specific color of underwear; some sing songs at midnight, and many people make resolutions. But what about the New Year’s Eve toast?

Toasting dates back to Rome where drinking was so essential to a person’s health that the Senate demanded that diners drink to their emperor preceding every meal. Many other cultures including Hebrews, Egyptians, Persians, Saxons and Huns had a custom of pledging the honor of something or someone with a glass. However, this gesture wasn’t always referred to as a toast. This term wasn’t invented until the late 17th century, when it became customary to put a piece of toast or a crouton in a drink, similar to the pairing of lemon/lime and tequila today. The pairing of a snack and a cocktail slowly became referred to as a toast.

The actual clinking of glasses didn’t come about until the early days of Christianity. One theory says that the bell-like noise would ward off the devil, which was most dangerous during times of drinking and partying. Another theory is that clinking glasses together began as a way for nobles to avoid being poisoned. The clank of the glass supposedly sloshed liquid from one drink to the other, assuring the guest that their drink was safe and untouched.

As time went on, Americans adopted toasting as a regular custom, but the sentiment was often directed towards the U.S. as a patriotic gesture. When America was settled, celebrations were held with 13 toasts, one for each state.

Drinking has always been a part of New Year’s Eve. Even the Ancient Romans drank on NYE, but the custom of sipping champagne for this holiday came from the French. Drinkers considered champagne to be fancy and more delicate than traditional wines. Throughout the 19th century, most rich Europeans developed a taste for champagne and the American wealthy class began to drink it as a mark of sophistication. Because it was associated with prosperity it became the drink of choice for New Year’s Eve parties.

All this information may be overwhelming for those of us in recovery, who won’t be imbibing at the stroke of midnight to ring in the new year. However, I believe understanding the history of New Year’s Eve celebrations—that it’s always been a drinking holiday and taking it to the extreme has always been encouraged—provides a small sense of comfort.

Despite the historical context, the reality is champagne isn’t fancy and getting bombed is overrated, especially on New Year’s Eve. In my own experience, I was always on the hunt for the fanciest parties where I could dress up and enjoy an open bar all night long. But most of the time I was blacked out before midnight even came. I wouldn’t remember a thing and I would spend New Year’s Day piecing together the events of the night before. It wasn’t much different from a typical weekend for me.

That’s when the champagne toast became pointless. That’s when I realized fancy drinking was the same damn thing as sitting in a hole-in-the-wall bar drinking shots of whiskey and downing Pabst Blue Ribbon. When you’re bound to alcohol, every holiday is alcohol-fueled. It wouldn’t be a holiday without it. But this is no way to live your life, and it’s not the way to start off a new year.

The best part about being sober on New Year’s Eve is that I am now able to remember everything. I can be grateful for the last year of my life and plan my intentions and resolutions for the coming year. I can be fully present in the moment without toasting champagne or nursing a hangover. I don’t even need to attend a party on New Year’s Eve if I don’t want to because today I have choices. Sobriety has freed me from the belief that I need to attend a huge party with alcohol in order to ring in the new year and enjoy myself.

It doesn’t matter that New Year’s Eve is a drinking holiday because any holiday is a drinking holiday when you’re constantly looking for a reason to drink. This year I challenge you to find what you enjoy doing on New Year’s Eve – whether it’s going to bed before the ball drops, a quiet dinner with family and friends, or attending a party where you feel comfortable until 12:30 or (gasp) 1 am. Ring in 2018 in style – being sober, coherent, and ready and able to make the best decisions for you in the new year.

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Kelly Fitzgerald Junco is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like Huffington PostMediumThe FixRavishlySheKnowsElite Daily, and AfterPartyMagazine. You can find Kelly on Linkedin and Twitter.