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Happy Homey New Year

Don't Call It a Party

There it is, looming in front of you, The Biggest Party Night of the Year. Expectations are high for fun, fun, fun. Should you pay the big bucks for a gala event and hire a sitter? Attend a huge party full of people you don't know very well? Or spend the final night of the year watching the west coast feed of the Times Square festivities, pretending it's midnight when the big ball drops, and hitting the hay a little after ten?

That last scenario may, in fact, be your ideal New Year's Eve. But there are a few of us who prefer a happy medium between the high-pressure party and chicken nugget-night with the kids.

If you're like me, you love celebrations, but hate New Year's parties, which always seem so fraught with forced gaiety. So here's a tip: Have a party. But never, ever call it a "party." You are not having a party! You are simply making platters filled with delicious food. You're setting up a little bar for champagne cocktails and fizzy drinks. You're putting your favorite music on. You're getting all dressed up in something incredibly festive, yet comfortable.

Not. A. Party.

Invite the kids! Let them stay up until all hours! Why not? It's the one night of the year where they actually should make noise (within reason) and fall asleep in their tracks when the mood strikes. (Don't worry; they usually crawl into bed before they hit the floor.)

Invite one or two friends, or a large handful. Tell them they're welcome to "drop by," but to have no expectations of a party, since you're not technically having a party. Some of your friends won't be able to make it, some of them will pop by and wish you a Happy New Year on their way to a more boisterous location, and some of them will come over and want to stay up until the last "Auld Lang Syne" is sung at two in the morning. No pressure. No expectations. Just a relaxed evening at home.


Set Up a Simple Spread

A day or two before New Year's Eve, I think up a menu and buy a case of my favorite Prosecco. (Yes, a case. Prepare for the evening ahead and stock up for the following year. How smart is that?) I select foods that can be set out and nibbled throughout the evening, rather than plated and served. I pick dishes that can be prepared a day or two beforehand, nothing that needs fussing over -- possibly a little something bubbling on the stove that can be grabbed when your family and friends feel the need for something warm, like pumpkin soup or chili.

Provide an interesting variety of food that will be appreciated by both children and adults -- there's no need to cater the entire dinner to the kids; you can have pizza anytime. New Year's Eve requires something a little more festive, a nice balance between the homey and the celebratory. Smoked salmon whipped up with crème fraiche and dill? Sounds fancy, but I've seen children literally shovel it onto their gaping maws. A chopped salad of cucumbers, red peppers, blanched green beans and kalamata olives (tossed with a little lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings) will outlast a lettuce salad, and will provide late-night snacking for peckish guests. Set out some nice chewy bread, with butter or olive oil for dipping.


Entertain with Ease

  • Break out the musical instruments, if you or anyone in your family plays. If you have musical friends, invite them. Every year, my husband, my kids -- and any friends who drop by -- work up a rousing rendition of "Auld Lang Syne." Sometimes we have a simple ukulele accompaniment; sometimes my son's cello. One year someone brought a harmonica. Practice your harmonies! Then call your out-of-town friends and family and sing it to them over the phone.

  • Get all dressed up in your most formal wear, which is more fun, somehow, when you're at home. I'm talking tiaras and evening gowns. Tuxes and smoking jackets. Red lipstick and glitter. I don't know about you, but I rarely get invited to balls anymore. So, put on the dog! Conversely, you can all wear your pajamas, and require your friends to wear their jammies too.

  • Get sparklers and have everyone do a Midnight Sparkler Dance in the backyard! (Weather permitting.)

  • Enjoy your Prosecco (or alcoholic beverage of choice) but pace yourself. It's going to be a long night, and you want to enjoy (and remember) every second of it. Put out plenty of water, fizzy and flat, for children and guests alike. Sleep in on New Year's Day! And enjoy the rest of your year!
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