I turn 40 today, and I love having a birthday on such a festive day! I used to say, “Everyone gets drunk and parties on my birthday.” I would amend that in my slightly more sober middle age to, “I never have to worry about finding a party on my birthday.”
There’s something almost tribal and spiritual about throwing a New Year’s Eve party — people of all walks of life seem eager to let go of the old year and ring in the new. Since the holiday seems to have such resonance, it’s a perfect time to infuse the night with a little creativity to make it more completely your own.
I had a party three years ago on New Year’s Eve that I advertised as a “creativity party.” Guests were asked to bring the tools of their trade or hobby, work on their art during the course of the evening, and generally admire the handiwork of the other guests.
Our host for the evening lived in a remote part of our metro area, which undoubtedly reduced attendance, but those who came had a lovely time. We had two bead-workers making necklaces during the evening, a former college professor giving an on-the-spot free-form lecture, and me following everyone around with my camera, documenting the night’s activities. We told stories and froze our booties off around an outdoor fire pit. Just before midnight, we all grabbed some hand percussion instruments and drummed in the new year. Fabulous.
Although my birthday parties in the years since then have featured more intimate, private gatherings, a creative element has woven its way into each one. Last year, my dear friend Eric presented me with one of my favorite birthday presents of all time—a set of personalized Mad-Libs that were so screechingly funny to fill out and read aloud, my sides hurt at the end of the evening from laughing so hard.
Apparently I’m not the only person who enjoys an arts-filled New Year’s Eve. First Night is a tradition in Boston. Started in 1976, the event is a festive alternative to alcohol-centric street fairs.
First Night activities take place from 1pm to midnight on December 31st at more than 40 indoor and outdoor venues throughout downtown Boston. The purchase of a First Night Button grants admission to venues featuring the best in theatre, dance, music, visual arts and film. Museums, theaters, churches and performance centers open their doors to First Night Button holders throughout the entire day. Popular attractions include the Family Festival at the Hynes Convention Center, gigantic ice sculptures on Copley Square and the Boston Common, two glittering fireworks displays, and a Mardi Gras-style Grand Procession that sweeps through the streets of Boston.
The creativity-based First Night concept has been replicated at more than 200 locations worldwide. First Night International lists celebrations in cities as diverse as Fayetteville, Arkansas; Hartford, Connecticut; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Provo, Utah; and Auckland, New Zealand!
If you can’t get to a celebration like First Night, or just don’t like crowds, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to integrate creative activity into even the smallest of New Year’s Eve bashes.
Suggestions to cultivate creativity on New Year’s Eve
Consider your guest list and plan appropriately. I don’t mean invite people based on their artistic talents alone. However, if you’re aware of your attendees’ talents and interests, it may be easier to design an enticing experience for all. Don’t forget those on your list who haven’t yet started painting, beading, photographing, playing an instrument, writing poetry, etc., but have shown an interest. Perhaps you could offer some low-risk ways for them to get their feet wet — silly contests with ridiculous prizes always work well for making it about fun and not performance.
Theme parties offer a host of creative opportunities. Co-create the party experience with your participants! Give your guests the theme ahead of time, and ask them to give you a list of ways they might be able to help with their RSVP.
Can they help devise costumes or props? Videotape or take still pictures of crucial party moments? Paint a scenic background (even if they’re just filling in an outline you’ve started)? Help you select songs for a mix CD/playlist? People are used to theme parties on New Year’s Eve, so you may be able to slip in some creative fun for your guests without it seeming too self-conscious.
Utilize the “year in review” motif in innovative ways. It’s OK not to fight the natural tendency to reflect on the year gone by on New Year’s Eve, but think of some entertaining ways for party-goers to express themselves. Perhaps revelers could vote on the top events of the year (or the best albums, movies, etc.), then act out or create artwork on the spot that addresses those items. Or, you could try what I like to call the “Peanut Butter Cup” approach to New Year’s Eve party games — have the year’s top news events mix in unexpected ways with the year’s music, films, books, etc. What brand of entertaining creative output might result if you ask guests to mix Britney Spears’ comeback with Obama’s mighty political victory?
Put a creative, personalized twist on old party games. I’m thinking of something along the lines of what my friend did with the Mad Libs—he took a game we already loved to play and picked subjects that he knew would entertain everyone at the party.
If your party guests have some common interests among them, maybe you could devise a simplified version of a popular board or card game that caters to this specific gathering. Or you could change the rules of an existing game to highlight the talents (or challenge the skills) of your party-goers—challenging artists to play drawing games and instituting a rule like “you must draw everything in proper perspective” or requiring budding filmmakers to re-create and film (on their cel phone cameras!) scenes mentioned in a “name that scene” movie game.
Find creative ways to involve “absent friends.” Every good party leaves participants wishing others could have joined them. If your group is cohesive enough to have a set of common friends who couldn’t make it, consider finding ways to “export” the party experience: an online photo gallery, a live webcast, a hand-made “party favor” for those who couldn’t come, lyrics to a silly song composed spontaneously in their honor at the party.
If your group’s absent friends include those who have passed on, perhaps party-goers can remember them by contributing to a discreetly placed memorial altar, or a memory book that partiers can add stories to as the night goes on.
However you celebrate New Year’s Eve, be safe, be creative, and have fun! See you next year!