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A Memorable and Family-Friendly New Year’s Eve

  • January 2, 2022

My most memorable New Year’s Eve was the first one for which I was allowed to stay up until midnight. I was eight, and it felt so grown up! Not only did I feel like a member of the big people club, but there seemed to be something important about this liminal night, the passing from one year to the next. It felt worthy of being observed and appreciated. I guess when you don’t have many years under your belt, a new one seems all the more special. 

While I haven’t lost my appreciation for arbitrary thresholds as new beginnings (Mondays, birthdays, etc.), I did lose my exuberance for waiting up to usher the New Year in. Until my children were old enough to claim this right for themselves, I don’t think I made it to midnight on a single New Year’s Eve of my adult life. I know. Exciting, right?

But now that my own children understand New Year’s Eve and want to experience it, I find myself thinking back to how my parents made it special and longing to bring some traditions to this night for my own family. Here are a few of my favorite ideas for a family-friendly New Year’s Eve.

Can’t make it to midnight?

OK. Mock midnights are not a new idea, but they are a good one. If you have very little ones who are dying to join the party but just cannot make it without meltdowns and misery all around, you may want to opt for this version of ringing in the New Year. There are two ways to do this, honestly (better if your kids can tell time) or via subterfuge. Dealer’s choice.

The honest route means that the children are “in” on the fact that the New Year will be rung in at some mutually agreed upon time before midnight to save everyone’s sanity. You can set clocks ahead if that helps create the feel of the moment. And be sure to make the noise, toast the toasts, and do all the things you would do if it really were midnight. That way, parents still get a decent bedtime, and kids don’t feel cheated.

If you’re going the *ahem* less than honest route, I highly recommend you check out whatever streaming subscriptions you have. Many of them feature short, stream-anytime New Year’s Eve countdowns featuring favorite children’s characters to help everyone get in the spirit. 

Ring in the new year in style.

So while you’re waiting for the big moment, how do you make it fun? The years our family has had the most fun are when we dressed for the occasion!

  • Go formal! Bring out the Sunday best, the fanciest suit, the dress you wore for that wedding that one time.
  • Make it a costume party. What a great reason to pull out the dress-up bin or all those old Halloween costumes that only saw the light of day once. Does your little girl dance? Break out the tutus! What about those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle outfits? Have awards for different categories. (Most original. Scariest. Cutest. – Of course, everyone gets one!) Or, if you want to plan ahead a bit, make it a themed party. How about Hawaiian, Disco, or Disney?
  • Want to really keep it simple? Try a pajama party. That way, when the clock strikes midnight everyone is already dressed to hit the sack. 

Turn it into a slumber party.

A huge favorite in my house is to pile the living room floor with blankets and pillows and just crash there when the festivities are over. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can also put some sheets up for a tent and string some Christmas lights (which may still be handy). 

Raise the roof and make a mess!

Sometimes the most memorable childhood experiences occur when parents let their hair down, allow a little mischief, and even participate themselves. New Year’s Eve is the perfect special moment to let go and let the kids make some noise and some mess. At the stroke of midnight, bang some pots, shout at the top of your lungs, throw confetti! 

Attract all the good luck you can. 

Did you know that noise making at midnight comes from a belief that it will scare away evil spirits? One way to pass the time is to see how many different good luck rituals you can accomplish before the evening is done. (Hint: This can also make a good research project as you learn about each belief and what culture it originates from.) 

Here are a few fun ones:

  • Eat 12 grapes—one for good luck for each month of the year to come (Spain)
  • Open the back door to let the old year out and the front door to let the new year in. Don’t worry, you don’t have to leave them open very long! (Ireland)
  • Don’t do any cleaning on New Year’s Day because you might sweep away the good luck. (Unknown)
  • Throw your broken dishes from the year at your neighbor’s house? (Denmark) OK. Unless you actually live in Denmark, you might want to skip this one.

Have breakfast.

If you’re not ready to crash directly after the clock strikes 12, what about starting the new year right away with breakfast? Try a new pancake recipe or topping and dub that your special New Year’s Day Pancakes. Even as an adult, there is something about pancakes in the middle of the night that is so much fun! And after all that late-night cooking, you’ll probably be on board with the good luck ritual of skipping clean-up.

Countdown with the past year’s favorite memories.

Another fantastic way to pass the time, in addition to the usual board games or movie marathons, is to memorialize everyone’s favorite moments from the past year. If your kids are crafty, you can go the scrapbooking route, but there are so many ways to do this. Create a digital photo album, or a collage of postcards, tickets, and other keepsakes from family outings. Making this an annual tradition gets you in the habit of saving things especially for this project throughout the year. A very simple way to do this is to have everyone name one favorite moment at the top of every hour as you wait for midnight. (Don’t forget to write them down or record everyone telling their memories!)

Opt for words over resolutions

Making a New Year’s resolution is a tempting idea. But for kids, choosing a meaningful and realistic change to make can be a set up for failure. (It’s very difficult even for adults!) Instead, try asking everyone to choose a Word of the Year. This single word will be a springboard for goals and ambitions and also an idea to return to for focus.

There are so many great choices. I suggest coming up with an age-appropriate list for your kids to choose from ahead of time. Then, talk about what each word means before they make a choice. (Great vocabulary lesson here as well.) Some inspiring words for kids are: Adventure, Creativity, Friendship, or Joy. It’s fun to include some more abstract words that kids can really have fun with like: Sparkle, Shine, or Dream. 

What would a year of focus on sparkling look like? I invite you to find out what words your children will pick this New Year’s Eve as you begin to make some memories for the new year to come.

Written by Vida Mercer: Vida is a second-generation homeschooler, writer, writing coach, and curriculum developer. Born and raised in Southern Maryland, Vida met her husband, Jonathan, literally on horseback during a stint in North Texas. Now, they live in Northern California where they love to travel, day trip, and weekend with their two daughters. They, of course, incorporate their adventures into their homeschool lifestyle and wouldn’t have it any other way!

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