How do you make a New Year's party that the whole family can enjoy?
For years, I barely acknowledged New Year's Eve to my three kids so they wouldn't know they were missing anything. I either went to some flashy grown-up event or skipped it and went to bed. In the morning, I explained about the date change.
Last year, though, our family attended a party at a friend's, and it was genuinely heartwarming. I began to think it was worth making an effort to mark the holiday, together, at home.
New Year's is not just for adults. A small party is doable and relaxing; think about inviting extended family or close friends and their children.
"Parents feel more comfortable with their kids around," says Selvi Rudge, a mother of three in Larchmont, N.Y., who often friends and kids for New Year's. "And having the kids there just makes the celebration better."
Preparing with some simple crafting and cooking projects can make everyone feel part of the holiday.
1. New Year's poster -- Take an 18-by-24-inch poster board and label it, "What I want to do in 2013." It can be simple, with a lot of room to write, or it can be decorated by kids who know their way around a poster board. Tape it up somewhere central -- I like the refrigerator -- and keep washable markers nearby. Write in an entry or two, whether resolution-like ("I want to take up jogging") or wishful thinking ("I want to explore the Amazon"). The poster can be a family project or it can be opened up to guests as a less-formal guest book at this less-formal party.
2. Table top -- Table décor can be kid-constructed and reusable, and it does not have to look childlike or chaotic. A great idea from Sabrina James, style director at Parenting Magazine, is to paint inexpensive plastic chargers (the larger plates that go under dinner plates) with black chalkboard paint, then have the kids decorate the plates with white chalk. They can draw stars or write guests' names or "2013" -- even toddlers can scribble. "It all stays black and white, it still looks sophisticated, and the kids have a hand in decorating the table," says James.
3. Making some noise -- Of course there must be noisemakers. James suggests this fresh take: Paint small, empty raisin boxes with silver or gold paint -- spray paint is easiest -- and then decorate them with small gems or sequins. Fill the boxes with dry pasta or rice, and tape a Popsicle stick to the back. The noisemakers can sit in vases around the table. Kids will be proud of their contributions, and you'll be happy to have them as attractive table decorations.
4. Food -- To avoid holiday feast fatigue, a New Year's feast should consist of foods the family actually likes. You're not tied to tradition, so focus on old family favorites, or on foods that some cultures say bring good luck. According to Epicurious.com, cooked greens symbolize money and good fortune; pork means prosperity. Don't eat anything that moves backward, like lobster. My teenage daughter likes to bake a holiday cake and get creative with frosting. Baking infuses the air with cheer and allows kids to participate. Limit how many sprinkles or frosting colors you offer; adult guests don't always enjoy a crunchy inch-thick layer of purple sugar.
5. After-meal activity -- Karaoke is a new tradition for our family; we learned it from the friends who held last year's party. Systems range in price from less than $100 to more than $1,000, and can be rented, too. Whether you rock the oldies or attempt to rap, the kids are just as entertained as the adults. And they will want their turn, so make sure your song list includes some current hits or favorites they know.
Finally, do you or don't you keep the kids up til midnight? Go for it, but be prepared to send them to bed or say good night early if they fall apart.
And they may. But the karaoke, other kids and special treats may keep them fueled and happy enough to see the ball drop. And then you will have another family memory tucked away, and maybe another entry for the 2013 poster: I want the whole family to ring in the new year together again in 2014.