Kicking out the New Year’s Eve blahs

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

The countdown to the new year has begun, and New Year’s Day, an official federal holiday, will soon be here.

Counting the newest one, there are now 11 federal holidays in a calendar year. Juneteenth joined the other 10 this year, meaning that federal employees get 11 days off each year as official holidays.

There are no “national” holidays in the U.S. as each state is allowed to create holidays for state employees, which are usually adopted by everyone else in the state. Tennessee has 11, but they aren’t the same 11 as the federal holidays.

One difference is New Year’s Eve. Tennessee says New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are state holidays. Federal employees only get New Year’s Day.

Back before work-from-home, Zoom/Google Meeting and other technology succeeded in making the traditional office obsolete, working at a newspaper taught you quickly that official holidays are little more than a pain-in-the-butt. “Somebody” had to work – and the youngest/lowest person on the totem pole usually drew the short straw. Except for Christmas Day, most holidays were a blur. We certainly never got 11 – Tennessee or federal.

Each holiday brought its own set of problems, but all centered around having column inches of a newspaper to fill when everyone else was busy holidaying. No one wanted to talk to a reporter. Businesses, court houses and schools were closed. We hung around with those others who had to work – hospitals, police stations, 24-hour markets – waiting for something to happen to write about.

The good thing about working holidays for reporters was that the work shifts were shorter – usually four hours (sometimes six, depending on the department). As a young feature writer, I was one of the lucky ones when it came to major holidays. Our department didn’t have to have someone in the office every minute like the “news” side did. For the major holidays, our sections were usually printed early, meaning that when that day’s feature sections came off the press, we were done. There was no internet to update with breaking stories, so, printed meant the day’s work was finished.

I also learned quickly that you could build a lot of goodwill by volunteering to work holidays that meant nothing to you. I always volunteered to work New Year’s Eve. In features, that usually meant me and the health reporter. Why health? Because one of the go-to stories on New Year’s Eve is the “First Baby Born.” It was part of a health reporter’s beat, so that short straw was always hers/his.

Maybe that is why I am usually so nonchalant about New Year’s Eve. My husband and I may go out for an early dinner with friends, but basically, it’s a day/night where I just wish for midnight to hurry up so I can go to bed. I have never cared about watching the ball drop, listening to Dick Clark/Ryan Seacrest or any of the other television offerings. We don’t have any family New Year’s Eve traditions except making sure I have black-eyed peas in the house to cook on New Year’s Day.

This year, however, the New Year’s Eve blahs have given way to some football excitement. I will be glued to the television – although it won’t last all the way to midnight. Two – yes, as it should be – Southeastern Conference football teams will have a chance to make the college football national championship game all about us. If Georgia and Alabama walk away winners on New Year’s Eve, it’s a win for the SEC no matter what. The two teams played each other for the championship in 2018, but the semifinal games were not on New Year’s Eve.

Now I just have to figure out how to squeeze a New Year’s Eve dinner in between the two games…

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at [email protected]

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