TV & Movies

New Year's Eve Rom-Coms Are Far Superior To Christmas Movies

That Carol sex scene? New Year’s Eve. Troy and Gabriella’s meet-cute in High School Musical? 12/31.

By Anne Cohen

We’re living in the golden age of holiday movies. Every streaming service from Netflix to the Food Network now has a festive slate to get you through the damn season. But the thing is, Christmas doesn’t strike me as a particularly sexy holiday. (As a certified Jewish person, I can factually confirm that Hanukkah is not — too much grease.) No gathering that involves your parents and any number of other relatives should be, and that’s probably why almost every one of these movies either begins with a trip to somewhere no one knows you (The Holiday), or simply leans into the problem, say with a return to one’s hometown (Happiest Season). As superior holiday film The Family Stone makes clear: Christmas is a tame romantic shenanigans holiday. Sex is a punchline. The joke is either that characters are not having it because of parental prudishness, or that they did and regret it. At best, it’s PG.

New Year’s Eve is a different story. Bridget Jones didn’t run after Mark Darcy pantsless on Christmas, under the watchful gaze of Aunt Oona and her mini-gherkins. She did it on NYE: the one day where it socially acceptable to A) go bare-legged in 29-degree weather, and B) kiss people who are sometimes mean to you. Harry may have helped Sally carry her Christmas tree home when they were just friends, but he crashed a New Year’s party to tell her he wanted the rest of his life to start as soon as possible.

Harry may have helped Sally carry her Christmas tree home when they were just friends, but he crashed a New Year’s party to tell her he wanted the rest of his life to start as soon as possible.

Bridget Jones’ Diary and When Harry Met Sally aren’t the only great on-screen love stories that begin with the countdown to mark another full turn around the sun. While You Were Sleeping, Sunset Boulevard, An Affair To Remember, Waiting to Exhale, 200 Cigarettes, Someone Like You, and even Sleepless in Seattle are all part of the canon of New Year’s Eve romances. That Carol sex scene? New Year’s Eve. Troy and Gabriella’s meet-cute in High School Musical? 12/31. Even The Holiday ends with Jude Law being Daddy as the clock strikes 12.

You can see the appeal: New Year’s Eve symbolizes death and rebirth, a brief moment of freedom and possibility at the closing of one year while on the cusp of a new one. What better time to throw caution to the wind and say yes to something big? Plus, unlike Christmas, New Year’s is secular in nature, which makes it more accessible as a backdrop for whatever love story you choose.

Ironically, New Year’s Eve is actually a terrible holiday. It is a lie peddled by Big Party to get you to buy impractical outfits and consume watered down booze and bad canapés for too much money.

Ironically, New Year’s Eve is actually a terrible holiday. It is a lie peddled by Big Party to get you to buy impractical outfits and consume watered down booze and bad canapés for too much money. In truth, New Year’s is at its best and most magical on-screen. Hollywood knows that love is about the party you never make it to, or the one you leave for a moment of true intimacy. Think about Fran Kubelik’s famous dash to the quiet comfort of a game of gin rummy with Bud Baxter in The Apartment, or Reynolds and Alma’s silent embrace amidst the fallen balloons of an empty hall after everyone else has gone home in Phantom Thread. That pleasant solitude, the feeling that lovers are happiest when they’re alone with each other, is what makes these New Year’s scenes actually sexy.

For too long, New Year’s Eve has been sold as a fantasy do-over, a chance to optimize yourself either as a form of self-care or in the pursuit of love. But the best rom-coms know that what’s really important is to like someone very much, just as they are — even if all they ever want to do on New Year's Eve is stay home, curl up on the couch, and watch a movie. Now, that’s sexy.