I don’t know much about throwing parties, but I am pretty sure of this: When the new year sweeps into the Mountain West, cold and dry and full of promise, you are not supposed to be alone in the garage, pawing through boxes in search of metallic cardboard party horns.

But that’s exactly how I spent the first few seconds of 2018.

I’m not proud of this, of course — but if you combine a lackluster storage system for holiday decorations with a poorly timed countdown to midnight on YouTube, well, this sort of thing is bound to happen.

I was a little disappointed, but I knew being a few moments late to 2018 didn’t exactly qualify as an emergency. My boyfriend and I laughed, then clinked our champagne flutes and embraced in the quiet of the living room — exactly what we would have done a few moments earlier.

Still, though, I let the mistake gnaw at me. I’d had 365 days to prepare for a split second that everyone knew was coming, and I’d managed to miss it anyway. We had barely planned anything at all — just an evening on the couch.

This failure stood in especially stark relief compared with the week we’d just had in Pennsylvania with my boyfriend’s family. They were warm and wonderful and deeply, deeply excited to be spending the week after Christmas together.

For all of these reasons, it was as festive a holiday week as I have ever experienced. We played Christmas music nonstop, exchanged gifts by the light of the tree, drove around the neighborhoods to see light displays, watched Christmas movies, played holiday charades and consumed altogether too many delicious meatballs, pies, cookies and glasses of eggnog. The town was beautiful, too — wreaths and other greenery hung on every available surface, dotted with soft golden lights and pinecones and adorned with red velvet ribbon. Tall Christmas trees glimmered early in the evening as dusk fell, and electric candles warmed nearly every window on the nearby college campus as shoppers’ laughter thawed the dark, icy streets. The week was brimming with holiday traditions, from something called a “putz” — a unique kind of nativity scene — to a late-night living room showing of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” a family favorite.

By the end of the week, we were thoroughly and happily worn out. And that was before our last flight was delayed overnight, landing us in Casper on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve rather than the day before. After 24 hours of travel, the two of us were still luxuriating in our newly gained space and sifting through our favorite trip memories in the moments before I made my ill-fated trip to the garage. And we continued doing that in the first hour of 2018.

Reflecting on the night a day later, though, I realized an evening on the couch in our own Wyoming home in pajamas had been exactly right to welcome in the new year — and a delay of a few seconds just didn’t matter. We didn’t need to attend an event or even be perfectly in sync with the rest of the world. We had celebrated the arrival of 2018 on our own time, in our own way, full of memories and happiness and thoughts and hopes about the next family visits — and really, is there any better way to begin a year?

Christmas 2017 reminded me to search for the magic in every moment. New Year’s Eve, on the other hand, reminded me that sometimes it’s OK to let it find me instead. There is joy in both the traditional and the unanticipated, warmth in both the success of a planned event and the wink of surprise that comes with forgotten details.

Our world, from Wyoming on out, is full of warmth and love and possibility. And that’s not because of any dates on the calendar or dressed-up trees or transformative midnight moments. It’s because of the people — the family members and friends who invite us into their homes and their lives, the people who hang and light the greenery in windows, the people who smile and hold us tight in some of the first moments of the new year. As long as we surround ourselves with these people, the year can begin whenever we say it does — and what a beautiful year it will be.

Mandy Burton, a former Star-Tribune opinion editor, currently works for Make-A-Wish Wyoming in Casper. Her column about life in Casper and Wyoming has appeared on this page since 2016.

Outbrain