When did Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” become a Christmas song? my friend Dan asked recently. I’ve noticed this too, and he’s right that “she tied you to a kitchen chair” feels not quite appropriate piped in for family shoppers. But I can see why “Hallelujah” has made its way onto the Christmas playlist. We want tunes that reflect how we really feel at this time of year: cold and broken, frayed, our strings sympathetically tuned to the song’s longing. (Other feeling-lonely candidates for Christmastime listening: Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” and Jim James’s cover of “Rocket Man.” Along with Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” which are, of course, actual Christmas songs.)
There could be no better place to spend New Year’s Eve, I decided, than the Leonard Cohen room at Hydra Icons guesthouse on this artist-magnet island that exists somehow out of time, where Cohen tried in his way to be free, making a home and love and writing all those haunting timeless songs. This, I insisted, is where I will find inspiration for the new year. Hydra will be the balm to sooth the 2016-sick soul.
It’s been a weatherly challenge just to get here as day to day we’ve had to wait to see if boats can brave the wintry sea. Friends in Athens gently suggest other activities, other holiday venues, but I stubbornly persist. I don’t want to be entertained. I want to be lonely. I want to hike up to the monastery at the top of the island, to commune with donkeys and gulls and the merry band of island cats.
Sometimes you want a festive New Year’s Eve celebration. Sometimes you want a solitary sojourn with the one you love.
Happy new year, friends. May it bring you just what you need.