By: Pauline Ho

New Year’s Eve (NYE) in North America signifies many things for many people, from celebrating the year past to looking forward to new beginnings.  It’s a time-honoured tradition to kick in the New Year surrounded by the ones you love.  Being the superstitious person that I am, I have always believed that how I start the New Year at midnight will influence my year to come.

In my 20s, I wanted to be surrounded by friends, out on the town, having the time of my life.  In my 30s, I hosted fabulous parties at home to ring in the New Year with the people I cared most about.  Now in my 40s, I look forward to a quiet romantic evening with the one special person in my life.

The one common factor in my NYE plan is ways to enjoy myself with great food and libation amongst people I love without the hassle of crowds and trying to catch a cab ride home in the freezing cold in stiletto heels.

After more than a decade of hosting festive parties, I’ve learned a thing or two about hosting a great NYE bash.  Unlike Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, NYE is a time to break loose and truly celebrate the night away.

Here are a few things to think about when planning a NYE party:

  1. What kind of party do you want to have? Do you want to invite everyone you know, just a few close friends or have a romantic evening in with the significant person in your life?  This decision will influence the kind of evening you plan.
  2. What kind of food setting do you want to do? Like any great party, people come for and will remember the food.  When you think about the best wedding you ever attended, it isn’t the flowers you remember.  It is the food.  Food considerations can be tricky these days having to account for everyone’s special needs, whether vegan, gluten free or piscivore.
  3. What time do you want people to come since you want everyone to be awake and celebrating the midnight countdown?
  4. What drinks to serve considering people will probably bring something?
  5. What kind of music and entertainment to fill the evening with since it will be a long night?
  6. To decorate or not decorate?

I love throwing hors d’oeuvres cocktail parties for 20 or more people.  They’re fun to plan and allow for creativity in the kitchen.  This is a wonderful way to make a variety of foods that will make most people happy.  Beyond the popular cheese and charcuterie platters and standard dips that everyone seems to enjoy, try coming up with a well-selected menu of hors d’oeuvres from around the world.

With the help of Google, you can find recipes for vegetarian spring rolls, Vietnamese imperial rolls (cold shrimp rolls), chicken satay, brie and cranberry wontons, smoked salmon on kettle chips, Chinese dumplings, hamburger sliders, Mexican tacos and so much more.  The key is having a variety that people will enjoy while accounting for six small hors d’oeuvres (about 12 bites) per person for each hour of your party.

Dinner parties at home are my favourite way to spend time with a close group of friends. Intimate dinners of six to eight allows for great conversation while sharing delicious food.  I tend to start with a few appetizers laid out for people to nibble on while having a drink before dinner starts.  It’s a great way for everyone to reconnect before dinner is served.

I love family style dining and tend to serve multiple courses on NYE.  With a couple of appetizers like a creamy soup along with a Middle Eastern salad platter (these can all be made ahead of time) to share around the table, it sets the tone for a relaxing long dinner.

Roast meals are great options since they’re easy to make and delicious.  Prime rib, rack of pork, lamb leg or large salmon fillets paired with roasted potatoes and a couple of vegetables have all been huge hits with my friends without me breaking a sweat.

Adopting the French tradition of fruits, nuts and cheese at the end of the meal before dessert is a great way to prolong the evening and continue the great conversation that tends to happen when my close group of friends are together and don’t have to rush off anywhere.

Considering that most of my friends would bring their own wine or beer, I always make sure I have the liquor cabinet and fridge stocked with the basics for people to mix their own drinks along with a few bottles of wine and non-alcoholic options.  However, many people love a signature cocktail such as a Negroni or Caipirinha.  Mix large batches to save time from bartending all night if you’re having a large get together.

I only decorate when I have large parties.  My dinner party guests and significant other don’t care so much about party lights and favours but I have gotten great feedback from friends who appreciated the added festive touch.  With the proliferation of dollar stores around the world, party favours, banners, streamers and balloons are a cheap and fun way to create a lively atmosphere.  Arrange your furniture to create conversation areas and clear some room for people to dance the night away.

Since it is a long night, entertainment options are good.  Having a playlist of music is easy to do nowadays and you can create your own or choose one off Apple Music or Spotify.  I’ve found that starting with mellower music and building up to more upbeat tunes as the night progresses helps to keep energy up and the party going.

Games are also fun to have around.  From Pictionary to Cards Against Humanity, these are a fun option to get people interacting in a new way that tends to bring on laughter.

For me, I’m planning to spend this NYE with my significant other.  After an afternoon nap to make sure we’re still awake at midnight, I’m planning a long intimate dinner that starts with a good cocktail and moves into a candlelit dinner. Conversation will be about highlights and lessoned learned from the year behind us and plans for the year to come, accompanied by a great bottle of red wine.

When midnight strikes, whether I’m with my beloved or a house full of friends, I plan to raise a glass or two with the people I love to wish for a joyous, healthy and prosperous new year. Whatever you do, make sure you have plenty of champagne for your guests and a way for everyone to get home safely.