A better way to party on New Year’s Eve

My ser­i­ous mis­take had been to be­lieve a friend who had uttered those sev­en se­duct­ive words, “Have I got a guy for you!”

As Decem­ber lurched along, and I was a col­lege fresh­man and date­less for New Year’s Eve, I grate­fully agreed to wel­come the new year with this stranger.

Time has be­ne­vol­ently blurred the pre­cise de­tails of that even­ing, but I do re­call a guy who was charm­less, te­di­ous and sneez­ing con­stantly from a nasty cold.

As young and naïve as I was, I made a pledge to my­self: no more fix-up blind dates – ever – on New Year’s Eve.

Three years later, I was in the arms of the young man who would be­come my hus­band. We already were an item, and his dia­mond-shaped fra­tern­ity pin was care­fully rid­ing on my black vel­vet scoop-necked dress that night.

I was safe. Spoken for. No more aw­ful New Year’s Eve dates for me. But hav­ing a ter­rif­ic hus­band turned out not to be the New Year’s Eve talis­man I had hoped it would be. It didn’t pro­tect me from a dec­ade of New Year’s Eves spent at parties with forced cheer after mad scrambles to find the lone teen­age girl in our town who was will­ing to baby-sit for three sleep­ing tod­dlers for an un­con­scion­able hourly fee.

So there came the year when we made a pact: Not one more New Year’s Eve when every­one pre­ten­ded to be giddy with joy, and all my hus­band and I wanted was to find an in­fal­lible es­cape route. We hunkered down to spend New Year’s Eve in our den, first with our daugh­ters, and then with each oth­er.

Fast for­ward an­oth­er couple of dec­ades to those daugh­ters, with hus­bands and fam­il­ies of their own. Now, they were the ones seek­ing those elu­sive New Year’s Eve babysit­ters.

Then one year about a dec­ade ago, Nancy and Mike, our Montclair daugh­ter and son-in-law, couldn’t get a babysit­ter for New Year’s Eve. Nor could our oth­er two daugh­ters and their hus­bands.

So Nancy and Mike figured they’d make lem­on­ade out of lem­ons and host a fam­ily party of their own. Noth­ing too elab­or­ate – just par­ents, sib­lings and two feisty great-grand­moth­ers on both sides, sadly both gone now.

Still new in their ram­bling old house, Nancy and Mike set up fold­ing tables in their empty liv­ing room, strung around some crepe pa­per and lights, and shed their usu­al jeans and T-shirts for dress-up clothes.

The start time for that first party was 9 p.m., and a stand­ing rib roast, pre­pared by Mi­chael, the fam­ily’s am­a­teur ex­ec­ut­ive chef, wasn’t served un­til just be­fore mid­night. Mean­while, our as­sor­ted grand­chil­dren were tear­ing through the house cre­at­ing may­hem, then suc­cumb­ing to the in­ev­it­able melt­down.

So the next year, we altered the format a bit.  Din­ner by 8 p.m., but still no con­ces­sions to the kids’ de­mands for a menu of chick­en fin­gers and pizza.

Mike’s moth­er made a fab­ulous York­shire pud­ding. His sis­ter brought her fam­ous chocol­ate chip cook­ies. Nobody wore clothes that clung or shoes that pinched.

In the last years, things have got­ten even more cas­u­al. Jeans for one and all. And yes to the chick­en fin­gers and pizza for the hoo­ligans who still don’t em­brace haute cuisine.

This year, the fam­ily bash is start­ing at 6 p.m. Mike has ad­jus­ted his plans for fabled menus, tak­ing in­to ac­count the ages – and foibles – of his guests. The fab­ulous stand­ing rib roast and turduck­en of years past will be re­placed by something plain­er. We’ve also con­cluded that candle­light, alas, makes us squint, so the over­head lights will be on.

If his­tory is proph­ecy, my sis­ter, the fam­ily his­tor­i­an, will aim her cam­era – now di­git­al – at all the faces around the table as we gath­er, so that we’ll have a visu­al re­cord of the way we were as 2013 turned in­to 2014.

If we’re in the mood, we may play fool­ish par­lor games, and sing corny old songs after din­ner. We’ll let the older kids go out in­to the street to bang on pots and pans at mid­night. It’s all ter­ribly low-brow and or­din­ary.

Among us now are weary work­ing wo­men, aging cel­eb­rants and par­ents of tod­dlers who would give just about any­thing for a good night’s sleep. So those who nod off in the den be­fore the big mo­ment al­ways are for­giv­en.

Nobody will have to force the cheer be­cause it will be there, en­vel­op­ing us as our flawed, noisy, com­plic­ated fam­ily wel­comes a new year.

Not with party hats. Not with false hys­teria. Not with any­thing much stronger than white wine.

But with something that’s far more im­port­ant.

Each oth­er. ••

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

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