Grammar Rule Upfront (GRUF): New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve is capitalized. Most of the time. As always, whether you capitalize or lowercase “new year’s” will largely depend on which style guide you’re using. The “Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed.” keeps it simple and capitalizes all references. “The Associated Press Style Book 2017” capitalizes the federally recognized days and lowercases general references to the new year.
New Year’s Eve – Chicago Style
In section 8.89 of the CMOS, titled Holidays, Chicago makes it clear that New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve are part of the list of official federal holidays and are, therefore, capitalized. There are no caveats, exceptions, or further clarifications. If you’re looking for a more specific writing circumstance involving reference to the new year, turn to your local style guide.
New Year’s Eve – AP Style
The AP breaks it down a bit further. In their entry titled, New Year’s, New Year’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Happy New Year, the rule is to capitalize all reference to the Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 days. However, if you’re simply referring to the coming year in general, lowercase is the way to go. For example, “I’m eating black-eyed peas to bring luck in the new year.”
Interestingly, the AP Style Book lists an exception where the general reference to the new year. The phrase, “New Year’s resolutions” is capitalized. But I suppose there’s an argument to be made that those resolutions are usually declared on the Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 days (however hollow they may be).
In one final exception, “Happy New Year!” is always capitalized, even though it refers to the new year in a general sense. The AP states that references to the new year in an exclamation should be capitalized. So if you’re ever yelling about the New Year, you get to add some grammatical enunciation to it!
The New Year’s Eve Apostrophe
While you may have to look up whether to capitalize or lowercase references to New Year’s Eve and the general new year, one rule is constant. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will always have an apostrophe, because they are possessive nouns, not plurals. That is, unless you are referring to many future new years.
Black-eyed Peas and New Year’s Day
The example stated earlier about black-eyed peas has truth to it for me. I’m already planning out my family’s New Year’s Day meal, and being from the South, of course it’s pork and black-eyed pea heavy. Southern tradition holds that eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the year will usher in a year of prosperity. Add some greens to the dish and wealth is said to come your way as well. This year, my family’s black-eyed peas will be served in the Hoppin’ John dish variety.