Throwing Together a Last Minute New Year's Celebration

Flutes of champagne on New Year's Eve.

With the long and often stressful process of shopping, spending, and planning for Christmas, it's easy to forget that the new year is lurking right around the corner. With all of our focus on Christmas, who has time to plan an elaborate New Year's celebration? Even if some of us only start thinking about New Year's Eve once Christmas has finally passed us by, it's not too late to plan a small, pleasant gathering. Hosting a cozy New Year's gathering at your home can be a great way to relax and catch up with friends who you missed at Christmas. With a little ingenuity and help from your guests, you can plan a memorable New Year's Eve in no time.

Size Matters

Once you've decided that you want to host your own get-together, don't hesitate to start calling and inviting your guests. First, set a few limits for yourself. You probably won't want to have too large a gathering, so set a limit on the number of guests you can reasonably host. Make a list including your closer friends and family members. Take into consideration how far away people live and how likely they will be to show up. Let them know that it is a fairly casual party. If you'd like to decrease your own burden a bit, make it a "potluck" party, and politely request that your guests bring along some kind of snack or dessert. Chances are they will be happy to help you out. Make their work easier by first making a list of the foods and snacks you need for the party, and what you've got covered yourself, so you don't have people bringing too much of the same thing (i.e. 10 bags of chips and no cookies.)

Safety First

As a host you want to be considerate of your guests' needs. You also have a certain responsibility for your guests. Most New Year's Eve parties include the consumption of alcohol and staying up late. Neither of these factors mixes well with driving. The roads are a dangerous place on New Year's Eve, even if your guests are just driving across town. You should offer your guests the option of sleeping over at your house. For certain guests that may have a longer distance to drive, the offer will be greatly appreciated. Tell people ahead of time they are welcome to stay over. Even if you do not have the extra bedspace for everyone, you can make use of couches, and tell people to bring sleeping bags and pillows. If you really don't have the space or simply aren't willing to have guests stay over, then reconsider inviting people who will have to come from a distance. You can also look out for the safety of your guests by cutting off the alcohol supply by a certain hour; say, no later than the official midnight toast. You can brew coffee for your guests to wake them up for their ride home, but remember that caffeine is no substitute for sobriety. Most importantly, just keep your eye on people. You can't be responsible for everyone, but your concern and judgement will help guests to remain safe.

A Family Oriented Celebration

If you haven't got a family of your own, chances are that you've got friends with children. Your New Year's celebration should of course include the kids; just think of the inconvenience of trying to find a babysitter on New Year's Eve. Plus it's a perfect night for togetherness. You can have the kids over and still have a relaxed party that allows you some time alone with the grown-ups. Here are some tips:

  • Set up a "kids' area" for the children to hang out and play separately from the adults. A good place is a child's bedroom or playroom, a spare bedroom, or furnished basement. Keep in mind the kids' ages, and how much supervision they will need.
  • Set up a TV and VCR in the room and rent some movies that the kids will love.
  • If you've got a video game system, set that up too and supply video games for the kids to play.
  • Set up a table for the room for playing cards and board games, as well as making arts and craft projects. Supply the games, along with construction paper, scissors, stencils, markers, colored pencils, glue, and other supplies for kids to do their own crafts.
  • Make small goody bags for each of the kids, including any left over Christmas candy you have, and party favors like kazoos and noisemakers.
  • Make sure to have plenty of kid-friendly food and drinks.

Fun and Activities

Of course the best part of the evening will be spending time together with your friends and talking. Here are suggestions for fun and conversation that allow you to reflect on the past year, as well as look forward to what the future holds. Both adults and kids will enjoy these easy-to-plan activities:

  • Have everyone write down a prediction for the next year on a piece of paper, fold it up, put it in a box, and shuffle. Then have everyone randomly pick a prediction from the box and read it off to everyone. The results can be very amusing. Works great if you make this a yearly tradition, and instead of reading off the predictions that night, you save them for next year, and read last year's. You can start the tradition this year; make two boxes and have everyone write two predictions, one to be read off that night, and one to be saved for next year.
  • The last night of the year is a great time to look back and reflect. A nice way to make your memories from your past year last is to make a memory book, involving all of your guests. Have each person at the party make their own page, where they write down their favorite memories from the year and draw sketches or paste down pictures, etc. Punch holes in each page and put them all together in a binder. After this is complete, you can pass the book around the party for all to enjoy. Obviously there are many variations on this idea. If you'd rather each person have something they can take away with them, follow a similar idea, except have each person make their own booklet to pass around to everyone.
  • Ideas for striking up interesting conversation that involves everyone: have everyone go around and say what they are thankful for in this past year. What are their wishes and expectations for the new year? What are their New Year's resolutions? Have everyone tell about favorite anecdote from the past year.
  • Have everyone come up with a list of things they'd like to accomplish in the upcoming year, and realistically can: for instance, books to read, places to visit, spaces to clean, junk to get rid of, activities to get involved in, and ways to better themselves. People reading off their lists might inspire others. It will also help people stay productive if they keep their list for the year, post it up on the refrigerator, and check things off as they get accomplished.
  • Cards and board games are perfect party staples for all ages. Have a deck of cards and selection of games ready for your guests.
  • Gather everyone together at some point in the night to take a group photo, which you can later make multiple prints of to send to everyone at the party. Also be sure to have your camera and lots of film ready to take plenty of party pictures. Get doubles to send along to your guests with the group photo.

Food and Beverages

If you have your guests help you out by bringing snacks, most of your work will be cut out for you when it comes to food for your party. Remember that you are keeping this party simple, and it's best to go with just appetizers, snacks, and desserts. Make a list and keep track of what you need and who is bringing what. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • In keeping with the relaxed nature of your party, you're not going to want to have to worry about washing massive amounts of dishes afterwards. Buy paper plates and plastic utensils to make things easier on yourself.
  • Frozen appetizers that can be quickly heated up are perfect and come in wide selections.
  • Snack staples include chips, nuts, pretzels, dips, salsa, bread, cheese, crackers, vegetables, etc.
  • Sweets that will be popular include cookies, brownies, cupcakes, etc. You can buy these items already made, or quickly make baked treats with ready-to-bake dough or mix.
  • It's a nice idea to have a make-your-own ice cream sundae station for later on in the evening. Have ready a few ice cream flavors, chocolate syrup, sprinkles, nuts, and whipped cream. This will be a great hit with the kids.
  • Now's a good chance to get rid of all that extra Christmas candy you've got lying around. Put your chocolates and candy canes in bowls around the house for people to snack on.
  • It's a great idea to have coffee and tea ready throughout the night for staying up late and keeping warm. Hot chocolate is a good idea too.
  • It's New Year's Eve, so of course you're going to want to have a bottle or two of nice champagne ready. Have nice glasses ready for the adults, with wine glass keys for distinguishing glasses from each other. Break out the champagne for a midnight toast.
  • For the non-drinkers and kids, you can have a nonalcoholic, sparkling cider ready so they can participate in the toast too.
  • Also keep plenty of other beverages available: soft drinks, fruit juice, milk, and water.

Decorating and Preparing

You don't have to go over the top decorating, but you can give your home some easy, quick touches that will make it perfect for a party with New Year's spirit.

  • Make plenty of space for your guests. Create as much space in your home as you can by moving around furniture to create open space. Also bring out any extra chairs or stools you may have stored away in other parts of your home.
  • Lighting is key to setting just the right atmosphere in your home, and to give it a magical, special presence. Arrange lots of candles around the party space. Just make sure that they do not form a hazard; do not put them near curtains, or anywhere they can easily be knocked or accidentally reached over. Use special caution with kids around, placing candles out of their reach.
  • Small votive candles will look great on tables. Arrange candles in many different colors. For more special lighting options, pull out any candelabras and other tiered multiple candle holders you might have lying around. Arrange a floating candle display as a centerpiece for a table.
  • Take advantage of light dimmers on overhead fixtures or lamps, turning down the lights a bit for atmosphere.
  • You can use any extra Christmas lights you have creatively, hanging colorful lights from walls and wrapping them around pillars, doors, and stair-handles, or even under glass tables.
  • Chances are you still have your Christmas decorations up. This is great for your party. Keep your tree lighted up throughout the party.
  • Poinsettias are particularly nice to display around your home and are also good as table centerpieces. Buy some more on sale after Christmas and spread them around your house.
  • Use a long table, such as your dining room table, as the main place to set up all the food, snacks, desserts, disposable plates and bowls, utensils, and napkins. Arrange the snacks and desserts in nice bowls and plates. Dress up the table with a nice tablecloth in colors that capture the winter season while not being overly Christmassy; silvers, whites, golds, reds and blues. You can sprinkle confetti around on the table for an extra touch. Silver snowflake and stars confetti will look great with the tablecloth.
  • Fill a large glass bowl or vase with candy canes and shiny ribbon for a nice centerpiece.
  • What would be a party without music? Get together a selection of music you think would be good for the party and make your own CD mixes. Just don't put on any Christmas music. Do have your favorite rendition of Auld Lang Syne ready however.

Party Favors

  • Again, kids will love cheap party favors like party hats and noisemakers. These can be fun for adults too who will be in the spirit at midnight.
  • You can also provide your guests with nice little New Year's gifts. Make use of all that extra chocolate and candy you may have lying around from Christmas. Buy cheap, clear plastic ornament balls and fill them up with candy, or purchase small stockings to stuff with sweets. Write each guest's name on them.
  • Confetti is the essential final touch of New Year's Eve. If you're hesitant about having confetti thrown around your house, then perhaps you should rethink hosting a New Year's party. You can provide confetti for your guests to throw around at midnight. (If you don't, there's a good chance several of your guests will have brought their own.). You can easily vacuum it up the next day.