Party pressure

Dec 20, 2000 at 12:00 am

With nostalgia, anticipation and introspection poised to collide as the 10-second countdown begins, the New Year’s celebration is an intense ephemeral moment. But with all that pressure, celebrating New Year’s Eve is an exercise in near-certain disappointment.

We place so much symbolic value on this final night of the passing year that the mere mention of social plans brings on panic attacks. My own dear group of friends has been decidedly reluctant to make firm New Year’s Eve arrangements. It’s like a bad relationship: We don’t want to commit lest something better comes along. Not that I’m suggesting we forgo this month’s impending celebration.

Although many people mistakenly considered last year’s event the “big one,” it is this Dec. 31 that truly signals our dogged entrance into the new millennium. (The reason? It has to do with the fact that there never was a year zero.) Somehow, 2001 just doesn’t seem as exciting as the even number 2000.

Are we so jaded already? Is this why there has been remarkably little buzz about this year’s celebration? Well, get over it, folks. In spite of the cynicism, I want a party! And I don’t want to have to throw it myself. Why don’t you throw it?

Here’s what I’m looking for: Impress me. Fly me by chartered jet to your private island for an exclusive ball. I’ll practice my foxtrot and charming cocktail conversation. I’ll wear my finest sapphire-studded gown. I’ll applaud the orchestra with my hands dressed in elbow-length satin gloves.

If your resources are more modest, I’ll be content with a well-planned black-velvet occasion. But I’ll still hold fast to my party snobbery. Whether it’s a small dinner party with close friends, or a larger festive gathering, please pay attention to the details.

Light the candles. Bring out the booze. The good stuff, mind you. (I’ll have an imported Scotch whisky on the rocks). Uncork the champagne.

Serve up the canapés and caviar. The specialty chocolates. The cheese platters. (I’m leaving if it’s Kraft cheddar cut in chunky cubes.)

Even college students appreciate a party that has a dash of elegance. You have the rest of the year to throw a basic BYOB bash with predictable chips and M&M’s. Now is the time for some creativity.

You don’t have to go all out a la Martha Stewart. (Although if you do, I won’t complain. There’s nothing like an invitation on handmade paper sealed with wax and delivered by horse-drawn carriage to make friends feel special). But you should indeed try to make your guests feel like guests.

Make ’em feel entertained. Remember, the best parties are like performances. So set the stage accordingly. Make your own New Year’s hats. (Why do they always look like dunce caps, anyway?)

Of course, there will be some corresponding performance anxiety: You know that guests will be holding this event to a ludicrously high standard. It is your implicit responsibility to validate their year 2000 and to ring in “aught-one” with spirited frivolity and cinematic jubilation.

Don’t leave the music to chance. Flip through your personal archives and burn a CD complete with tunes to make the party feel warm and fuzzy, or bopping and boisterous, whichever mood you’re aiming for. (I’ll go with Ella Fitzgerald and classic Ace of Base. You could do that, or follow MT music writer Melissa Giannini’s elsewhere in this issue.)

Prepare for the uncomfortable midnight moment. If not everyone has someone to smooch, make sure to invite plenty of singles. Provide enough confetti to distract a Buddhist monk.

Finally, if all else fails, feel free to change the date of the occasion. I won’t mind. Anyone familiar with the fascinating history of the calendar knows that the first of January has not been universally recognized as New Year’s Day, even in the West. England — being characteristically stubborn — continued to recognize March 25 as New Year’s Day until 1752.

Doesn’t that make a bit more sense, anyway? Today we celebrate the new year in the dead of winter while most of us are hibernating and gaining weight, or tromping around through the chill swaddled in mittens, scarves and parkas. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to celebrate the birth of a new year in the season of rebirth?

OK, maybe that’s a bit too much to ask. But if all of my expectations are making you hyperventilate, don’t worry. Call me up at the last minute on Dec. 31. Invite me over for popcorn, raw cookie dough and a Bette Davis video fest. I’ll be over in a heartbeat, wearing my sweats and sneakers. After all, I still don’t have definite plans for the evening.

Audrey Becker is a freelance writer and party connoisseur based in Detroit. E-mail her at [email protected]