Nine years out of ten, New Years Eve sneaks up on me. The holidays are wrapping up. The family is in recovery mode. Then the calendar tells me that the year is about to end. It seems strange to let the night pass without any acknowledgment, but it can also feel like too much to plan something extravagant after a month of … planned extravagance. Having scrambled to fill many New Year’s Eves, we’ve actually found the simplest celebrations highlight most important parts of our year. Here is a list of some of our family’s favorite last-minute fun.

Food

In our family, celebration is synonymous with food. Any party worth having needs some sort of treat. The obvious start in that direction is a bubbly drink of some sort that everyone can use to toast in the new year: sparkling cider, soda, juice with seltzer water, or whatever else might come to hand in your pantry or a quick run to the store.

We love to have a PJ picnic in the living room with whatever leftovers happen to be in the fridge. An exciting way to finish the meal is with a dessert hack someone told me about years ago: mug cake. Just use cake mix and water in the microwave! Seriously, it’s that easy!! The ratio is roughly two parts to one, cake mix to water, lightly stirred. But make sure to leave about half the mug for room to rise. You can experiment with amounts and time but you should have a decent single-serving cake after a minute or two in the microwave. You can then top with extras like cut strawberries, chocolate chips, or marshmallows to jazz it up even more.

Party Time

I love the unstructured part of our casual family NYE celebrations. We pull out favorite games or play charades using things only we will understand, quirks of family members or inside jokes. You can look up the stats on your favorite music playing app or device and host a dance party to your most played songs from the year. Smartphones make it easy to present a slide show of the year’s highlights. Select whichever pictures you’d like, or create an album if it’s easier, then ask the phone to run it as a slide show. It’ll be even better if you have a way to connect it to your TV or project it onto a wall!

“Midnight” Celebrations

If your kids are young, you’re probably hoping to ring in the new year a lot earlier than most. Families on the West Coast have the option of watching the Times Square ball drop at 9:00 and getting their kids to bed hours ahead of schedule. That’s not the only option! You can usually find videos of celebrations from around the world earlier than yours. Even if you’re not concerned about time, this is an awesome way to connect to the world as we all head into the new decade.

While you’re watching all the celebrations, don’t forget to find one of your own. Pots and pans make excellent New Year’s noisemakers. Littler ones might enjoy noise of their own design in the form of shakers. Grab any sort of resealable container from the recycling and try filling it with dry beans, rice, or anything else that sounds good shaking. Just make sure to reseal that container well with heavy-duty tape or glue. You don’t want to kick off the new year with a cleanup situation.

My teenager reminded me of the trend that started a few years ago. People enjoy syncing favorite songs or movies with the stroke of midnight. The Death Star might blow up or the beat drops on your favorite song just as the clock hits 12:00.

The beauty of this type of celebration is the space it creates for your family to enjoy each other and a time of fun for fun’s sake. Without the worry of nice clothes, fancy foods, or entertaining guests, you can relax in your fuzzy socks and laugh with your kids about whatever the last year brought. Even when we’re invited to go somewhere, I find I covet the alone time with just our family. Not only is it the easiest, it’s also the happiest way to start a new year!