Every year on Dec. 31, the approach of midnight finds us drawing a line in time. The way we do this varies — we eat black-eyed peas, or fling open the windows, or run into an icy ocean — but the idea is always the same. On this night, we put something behind us and seal it off, so it is part of the past. And then we try to begin again.
It is difficult to imagine any year when our need of this ritual has been greater. Many of us have lost those dearest to us, and absorbed those losses in isolation. Livelihoods have been wiped away like vapor from a window. And yet, without the fireworks, the giddiness of crowds, we have never been so constrained in our rituals.
That does not mean we are not celebrating. Inside lighted rooms, we will raise glasses to the people who sacrificed for us, to the triumphant performance of our health care workers, and to a thousand small kindnesses already receding from memory. Yeah, yeah, the end of a year may be an illusion, just a way to trick ourselves into keeping going. But we made it.
To ring out a year the world wishes had been an illusion, the biggest event in Paris really was one. It is called, perhaps optimistically, “Welcome to the Other Side.”
From within a virtual Notre-Dame Cathedral — a resurrected, reimagined version of the fire-gutted treasure — the city livestreamed a computer-generated concert and light show, with no one actually inside the cavernous landmark, and no crowd outside.
Most people now living have never seen a year that Europe, like much of the world, was so eager to bid good riddance to — or so unable to send off with any fanfare. Vaccines are the first real rays of hope, but the coronavirus still reigns unchecked, a new variant is stoking new fears, and much of the continent is under some form of lockdown.
Concerts? Canceled. Crowds and parties? Banned. Staying out all night? Don’t even think about it. Across Europe, where Covid-19 has killed almost 600,000 people, cities and nations sent the message that the only acceptable place to spend New Year’s Eve was at home, and they tried to arrange enough spectacle broadcast or online to keep people there.
“Covid loves a crowd,” said Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director for England in Britain’s National Health Service. “So please leave the parties for later in the year.”
In a televised address from the Élysée Palace, President Emmanuel Macron of France — recovering from his own bout of the virus — said that “the year 2020 ends as it unfolded: with efforts and restrictions.”
In Berlin, the traditional TV broadcast from the Brandenburg Gate went off without fireworks or live spectators. It is one of 56 popular New Year’s Eve spots around the city that the authorities are closing overnight in the hopes of dissuading outdoor gatherings, which are prohibited. Indoor get-togethers are limited to five adults from no more than two households. The sale of private fireworks, a tradition for the holiday Germans call Sylvester because it is the feast day of St. Sylvester, were banned — though some went off, anyway. “It is necessary that this be the probably quietest New Year’s Eve that Germany can remember,” said Jens Spahn, the country’s health minister.
Instead of its annual outdoor live concert, Rome substituted a celebration streamed online, with a range of performances, and a hard-to-describe event, part concert, part light show and part stargazing, titled “How to Hear the Universe in a Spider/Web.” With Italy under a 10 p.m. curfew and the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks banned, President Sergio Mattarella said in his annual address that the pandemic had changed the country, “sharpening the fragilities of the past, aggravating old inequalities and generating new ones.”
In Geneva, fireworks around Lake Geneva (also known as Lac Leman) at the heart of the city were canceled, and bars and restaurants were closed, though restrictions on private gatherings were eased from five to 10 people. Many residents of the quiet city had departed for Swiss ski resorts that remained open — much to the chagrin of neighboring European countries who have opted to shutter their slopes to prevent the further spread of coronavirus cases.
In London, Big Ben, largely silent in recent years as its clock tower underwent…
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