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This woman does not want you to wish her Happy New Year (Image: Getty Images)
This woman does not want you to wish her Happy New Year (Image: Getty Images)

SocietyJanuary 17, 2024

Official ruling: When is it too late to say ‘Happy New Year’?

This woman does not want you to wish her Happy New Year (Image: Getty Images)
This woman does not want you to wish her Happy New Year (Image: Getty Images)

Tara Ward wades bravely into one of the thorniest January questions: how late is too late to greet someone with a cheery ‘Happy New Year’? 

Every January, New Zealand faces a big problem. I’m not referring to penguins strolling into petrol stations or cranky seagulls eating your chips, but something far more troubling. It’s an issue we encounter as each new year begins, and as every day in January passes, grows more and more of a high risk activity. Yet, nobody wants to talk about it.  

Enough is enough. It is time to be brave. It is time to be bold. We must discuss the fact that nobody in this country knows when to stop wishing people a Happy New Year. 

They’re only three little words, but knowing when to cease and desist with a jubilant “happy new year” is a social minefield. Every January 1 we go wild about surviving another spin on the Gregorian rollercoaster of life, throwing out joyful new year greetings like a lolly scramble of festive tidings. 

But come mid-January, we’re in murky waters. The year is no longer new nor happy, yet we persist in offering up these awkward greetings. Is it still the new year once you’re back at work? Once I wished a colleague a Happy New Year on January 23 and she laughed in my face. Someone online claimed it’s fine to wish people a Happy New Year until Valentine’s Day. That is outrageous. 

Big mood (Photo: Getty Images)

When does the New Year stop and the Definitely Not New Year begin? Does it end at 11.59pm on January 1, or should we embrace the celebration so wholeheartedly that we stretch it from December through to February? It’s risky, either way. Ease off the HNY pedal too soon and you miss out on the festive fun, linger in the zone too long and “it’s too late, fool” will ring in your ears until Anzac Day. 

The madness has to end. “Happy New Year!” needs an official deadline, or we’ll keep spewing it up all year long, willy nilly, with no regard for time and place. Before you know it, it’ll be Halloween and some little shit who’s sky high on mini Mars bars will be leaning on your doorbell screaming “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” like the devil incarnate. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

After several top-secret focus groups (mostly me wishing my neighbour a happy new year on January 17 and her blanking me), we’ve found a definitive answer. Now it is no longer about looking forward to the New Year, but rather, to knowing when the New Year ends.

When can you wish someone a Happy New Year?

December 28-30: No.

December 31: No.

January 1: Yes, yes, a thousand yeses. Today, say nothing but those three precious words. Sing them to strangers on the street, mime them through interpretive dance, scream them in your sleep like you’ll never sleep again. Live the New Year, feel the New Year, be the New Year. 

January 2-6: Still yes. Drink from your cup of good tidings while it overflows. Spread that New Year happiness around like it’s an infectious disease.

January 7-15: The cusp. You’re pushing your luck. You’ve already had a solid seven days to send out a group WhatsApp message, how long do you need? Say it if you must, but at least have the decency to look slightly ashamed when you do.

January 16-22: Forget it. It’s practically Easter. Fill your empty soul with Creme Eggs and move on.

The rest of January: Stop.

February – December 27: Get in the sea, you absolute monster.

This story was adapted from an earlier piece published in January 2020. 

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