guests at 1950s New Year's party

New Year's Eve

I can’t remember the last time I saw Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians on TV. Wikipedia says he broadcast live from the Waldorf Astoria hotel until 1976-1977, and I wasn’t watching by then; I had my own friends and my own celebrations.

But for what seems like my entire childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s, it was the dapper Lombardo who rang in the New Year for me and my family. My parents had a standing date with a couple, their best friends, who had a daughter my age. Mom and Dad brought the hats and the noisemakers; Fred and Carol served Ritz crackers with cheddar cheese. Barbara and I dressed our Barbie dolls and, later on, played Old Maid and compared our Beatles fan magazines.

We pretended our ginger ale was champagne.

The parents had a few Manhattans, and Barbara and I got our special treat: a glass of ginger ale. We pretended it was champagne and sipped it only a few times, so we’d have something to toast with at midnight. The music began about 10 p.m. The television announcer said it was coming to us “live from the world-famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel on fashionable Park Avenue.” It was there, he said, that “New York’s glamorous high society” had come to celebrate with “Mr. New Year’s Eve.”

Accessories for New Year's Eve party

At midnight, all of us shouted out the numbers as the announcer counted down from Times Square until the thrilling words “Happy New Year” appeared on the screen and Guy launched into “Auld Lang Syne.” We all hugged and ran to the front door with our hats and noisemakers and screamed “Happy New Year” over and over again in ragged unison with the neighbors, who’d probably drunk a few Manhattans of their own.

I see all this in black and white, and those shades themselves make the evening all the more evocative. It’s still hard for me to imagine the world before Kodachrome in anything other than black and white.

It didn’t go on forever, of course. Barbara and I began to think of it as corny, and our parents, beset as people are by illness or money or job troubles, gradually stopped their own celebrations.

But in the 1950s and early 1960s it was the perfect evening for me. That was probably true for my parents as well.

We went back into the house and watched the Waldorf party continue. Guy never stopped smiling as the couples danced in their New Year’s hats and best dresses. Everybody looked happy. A half hour or so later, my parents would call it a night.

The ride back home seemed to carry some of the Waldorf/Lombardo glamour with it. Holiday lights still winked from the stores where mannequins wore mink stoles. The jewelry store sparkled in the light. I especially loved the pink neon piano atop the biggest bar in our neighborhood. The stores, the street lights, the house decorations – all had a new glow in the darkness.

It was January 1.

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