I remember my first New Year’s Eve kiss in almost-alarming detail. I was 17 years old, a senior in high school with a boyfriend already in college. We’d gathered with his friends for New Year’s Eve, and after marathoning a brand-new raunchy cartoon called South Park, we caravanned downtown to watch the fireworks. As the shivering, tipsy masses counted down around us, my boyfriend pulled me toward him. We’d been together for a year and a half, so it was far from our first kiss, but two decades later it’s the most memorable.
That New Year’s Eve was the first time my parents let me stay out all night—after making me promise I’d sleep on my boyfriend’s couch. (I kept my promise. I just neglected to inform them that said couch folded out into a bed and my boyfriend would be joining me.) The kiss was a glowing reminder that soon I’d be out of my parents’ house and on my own in the big city, where my boyfriend lived. This all-nighter was a taste of what was to come, and it all started with the kiss.
Since I was in fifth grade and saw the episode of Full House where Joey resorts to video dating so he can score that all-important New Year’s kiss—and subsequently almost elopes to Vegas—I had this idea in my head that a New Year’s kiss meant power. Adulthood. Independence. Something I’d craved since I was old enough to pronounce the word.
Dave Coulier notwithstanding, why did I put so much weight on a simple smooch? Turns out I have history on my side.
As far back as the eighth century, inhabitants of ancient Rome would throw the Festival of Saturnalia every New Year’s Eve. The purpose? To kiss and debauch until the sun came up.
English and German folklore take the tradition one step further: New Year’s kisses are a harbinger of what the year will bring. The very first person you encounter in the new year, as well as the tone of the liplock, tells you everything you need to know. No pressure or anything.
Pop culture maintains the significance of New Year’s kisses: Who can forget Billy Crystal’s declaration of love over the sounds of “Auld Lang Syne” in When Harry Met Sally? Or Michael Corleone, giving his own brother a literal kiss of death in The Godfather, Part II? There’s even a 2007 indie film called In Search of a Midnight Kiss, about a brokenhearted twentysomething (are there any other kind?) who goes on a New Year’s Eve date with a woman he met through a personal ad. (Sounds like I’m not the only one who watched Full House.)
Pop culture maintains the significance of New Year’s kisses: Who can forget Billy Crystal’s declaration of love over the sounds of “Auld Lang Syne” in When Harry Met Sally?
We all have stories of New Year’s kisses, and the meanings we attach. “When you’re single, a New Year’s kiss is exciting,” says Carter*. “When you’re in a relationship, it’s sweet.”
New Year’s kisses can make long-ago wishes come true. “From middle school through high school, I had a crush on this very sweet Australian boy in my class,” Sarafina says. “I was home from college on winter break, at a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house, and we kissed, mostly because there were no other single people there. It was a one-time thing, but it was glorious and romantic and a very, very good kiss.”
Sometimes a New Year’s kiss cheers up a friend in need. Monica was unhappy in her marriage, and her then-husband refused to tag along to a swanky cocktail party “because he didn’t want to go to ‘that fancy-ass bullshit with a bunch of sorority girls,’” she says. “So I went without him. I had a blast, live-tweeted my awesome night, and kissed [my] asexual friend at midnight.
“Was it the best New Year’s kiss? No. But it was the most memorable—sloppy and hilarious. I was sad near midnight because [my] shitty husband wasn’t there, and it was my friend’s ‘cheer up’ solution. I’m so glad he suggested it.”
And even when the kiss is purely platonic, it can lead to surprises. Recalls Audrey, “one year, my best friend and I went to a hotel for New Year’s Eve. We got a huge bottle of champagne and got silly tipsy. Now, I had a crush on her at the time, but she’s painfully straight.
“Midnight rolls around, and we’re both lamenting that we don’t have anyone to kiss,” Audrey continues. “So we laugh and give each other a big, messy cheek kiss. After we tuck in for the night, we’re still giggly and we hear a knock on the door. In our inebriated state, we feared we were being too loud, and it was hotel security, so I put on my best apologetic face and went to answer the door.”
Turns out, it wasn’t hotel security, but “two Harlem Globetrotters with champagne in hand” who had the wrong room.
“I go back to bed,” Audrey says, “and after we both stop laughing and settle down, I hear her quiet voice in the darkness: ’We should have let them in.’”
New Year’s kisses can mean everything…and nothing. You can attach significance—Lola “sets an intention” during her first kiss of the year—or just grab your nearest pal and pucker up (pending enthusiastic consent, of course). Either way, remember your Chapstick, Altoids and breath control.
In other words, always kiss responsibly.