Bring in the New Year in style!

Although the “what to do?” struggle is real, there’s no wrong answer for how best to welcome a New Year.

Whether to cozy up or to party down, that is the question. Should you don the stilettos and dance through midnight, or toast the New Year at home with a nice bourbon and some fuzzy slippers?

They’re both tempting and it can’t hurt to plan ahead!

Although the “what to do?” struggle is real, there’s no wrong answer for how best to welcome a New Year. A good night’s sleep as a precursor to the beginning of the Gregorian calendar might just be the perfect start to those yearly self-care resolutions you’re making. An intimate gathering of friends may perfectly reflect any year’s journey. Perhaps tripping the lights fantastic with an all-out bash will also set the stage for what’s to come.

Whatever you decide, and however, big or small, don’t skimp on making your New Year’s Eve festive. Here are some ideas to get your creativity going for your next New Year’s celebration.

Party of one, please!

Going it alone is the option I exercised this past New Year’s Eve, and it was worth every single solitary moment. Just thinking about that guilty pleasure show you’ve wanted to binge on Hulu…Yesss, please! Let would-be revelers know you’re simply not available (they’ll be jealous, trust me), and have at-the-ready, that bottle of Petit Sirah you’ve been waiting for a special occasion to open. After all, who’s more special than you, and besides, drinking it by yourself means no one will roll their eyes when you drop an ice cube into it (don’t judge).

If you prefer a light repast between episodes of True Story (What! You’re not watching True Story?), order your most favorite take-out, serve it on your best china, then save the leftovers for 2:00 am when you must see the show’s season finale. If you’re more of a grazer, drizzle white truffle oil over-buttered popcorn and toss it with some grated parmesan cheese. Either way, you’re all set for a perfect evening with a guest who won’t get on your last nerve. The best part: when you’re ready to go home, you can just turn the light off!

The mini gala

If you want to celebrate with friends but don’t want twenty or more people staining your carpets or drinking all the good whiskey, you still have options. You can keep from breaking your back and bank by hosting a simple, elegant dinner with a few close friends. For starters, plan a fun and fuss-free meal that will keep you out of the kitchen. Then throw down a tablecloth (go ahead, toss some glitter on it), and tie metallic curling ribbon around each guest’s napkin, and you’ve got the makings of a party! No time or patience to make a centerpiece? Toss some shiny bulb ornaments in a salad bowl, and you’re ready to entertain.

Keep your stress low with do-ahead menu choices. As guests arrive, treat them to cheese fondue served with a platter of dippables: bread, apples, and blanched vegetables. Fondue can be made in advance, and because it’s a self-serve amuse-bouche, you can enjoy your guests. Bonus: champagne and fondue are perfect together.

Once at the table, start your guests with a salad of winter greens and green goddess dressing (dressing keeps for two weeks refrigerated), served with your best crisp white wine (or keep the champagne flowing). For a main course, consider a bake-ahead dish that you can reheat in the oven and serve right from its pan. Embellish your standard lasagna with lamb and burrata in place of beef and mozzarella, or substitute a sundried tomato cream sauce for your tomato sauce. Add white truffle oil and brie to your famous macaroni and cheese, or encrust the top with panko bread crumbs for extra crunch.

Consider an easy, do-ahead baked polenta with wild mushrooms. Want something fancier? Try your hand at Beef Wellington. It’s simple to make, can be made days in advance, and popped in the oven 30 minutes before dinner. Beef Wellington will pair perfectly with your favorite potato recipe and any sautéed greens.

For dessert, gussie up your best go-to sweet by sprinkling edible glitter on it (available at specialty baking stores and online), and just serve it with a dollop of Grand Marnier whipped cream on the side (1 cup heavy cream, 1 ½ tsp. Grand Marnier Liquor, 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar; whip ingredients together in a blender on medium speed until a stiff peak forms, serve). 

Don’t let the clock determine when you ring in the new year. If you’re part of the get-to-bed-early-crew, start the party at 5:00 pm and end it in time for everyone to watch the ball drop in their own homes and in the comfort of pajamas.

We’ve got game

If a sit-down is not your jam, but there’s no room for a dance floor (or your sciatica is acting up), a game party is a lively way to toast the year. Whether it’s poker, dominoes, or a pile of your favorite games from which folks can make their own fun, make sure the vittles you serve can peacefully coexist with moving bodies and game pieces. In other words, save the chicken wings, fancy stemware, and soup for another event.

Start the party late, say 9:00 pm, so guests are not expecting a full meal. No need to make the bar open to include everything: beer, wine, and a house drink (I like Manhattans for game parties) along with sparkling water and fruit give people plenty from which to choose. Then, set out a spread of interesting do-ahead snacks with small plates and napkins that let people grab handfuls between competitions.

Standard fare like pretzels and peanuts are always welcome at a poker table, and there’s nothing wrong with chips and salsa, but you’ve got more game than that. The sky’s the limit when you’re talking about party snacks. Popcorn can be transformed in seconds from standard movie fare to something far more interesting. Try drizzling popcorn with olive oil and tossing it in a bit of salt and nori komi furikake seasoning for a Japanese flair (you can even spruce up your Chex Mix with nori komi furikake).

Toss a batch of buttered popcorn with some powdered cheese (use the packet from a box of macaroni and cheese) and spice it up with cayenne pepper. Alternatively, mix cheese corn with caramel corn for a homemade Chicago mix; if you’ve never had it, you’ll thank me later. The best part? In less than 20 minutes, you’re ready to go.

Anything on a toothpick is bound to be a winner. Skewer miniature mozzarella balls and roll them in fine herbs (don’t forget to leave a bowl for people to discard their toothpicks), or just bake up tater tots and set out some spicy ketchup and hummus. They’ll be gone in minutes.

Augment your salty fare with cookies, the perfect game food because they can be eaten with one hand. Update your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe by adding a cup of grounded pretzels or potato chips. Alternatively, bake up a batch of brownies and cut them into mini squares. You can even mix in graham cracker pieces and mini marshmallows to create s’mores brownies.

Don’t feel like baking? Try a classic rum ball recipe that requires no actual cooking and can be made in less than 15 minutes. Are rum balls too much for you? Serve Oreo or Nutter Butter cookies dipped in chocolate and rolled in festive sprinkles. I promise they’ll disappear before the Pictionary clues begin to get difficult.

Since you might be in the middle of cribbage when your guests are ready to go, make sure to hang a notice on the door reminding folks that their car is parked safely at your place if they’ve had too much to drink. Taxis, Uber, and Lyft are just a text away.

No shame in being “lame”

Three hundred sixty-four days is a long time to get up and put one proverbial foot in front of the other. Maybe what you really need is a rest from birthday celebrations, holiday parties, retirement send-offs, and anniversary gatherings. Maybe New Year’s Eve, when the rest of the world is tilting at revelry windmills in furtherance of the perfect night (and isn’t going to notice you’re not present), you’d rather sit with a book or stare out the window, and not have to worry about whether you’re needed elsewhere; this is OK too, in fact, it’s great!

Whether good or bad, we’ll all move on to the next chapter after the year is done. However, you can choose to mark the transition on the 31st; even if it’s pulling the covers over your head, one thing is certain: Tomorrow will be a new day and, as it happens, a New Year too.

Best wishes for a good one to you and yours!