Think that New Year’s Eve (and Day) is just a holiday for adults? Think again. Here are 18 perfectly kid-safe ways to celebrate the coming year that your family is sure to love.
1. Visit a virtual Times Square
It’s about 800 miles from here to the Big Apple, but you can find the same Times Square fun in 1/40th of that! Kohl Children’s Museum pays tribute to Times Square with its New Year’s Eve party, including music, a dance party, party hat making, family photos and – don’t forget – a giant confetti drop.
2. Enjoy an early midnight
Staying up until the clock strikes 12 is difficult for even the night owls among us, let alone the littles who wake at the crack of dawn. Lots of local spots have early midnight celebrations, from children’s museums to ice rinks, restaurants to play places. Toast to the New Year and then get snuggled up in bed before the ball even starts to descend.
3. See a show
Chicago’s holiday show scene is on fire, and New Year’s Eve is a great time to squeeze in some theater time before the holiday season is over. A Christmas Carol has its last matinee at 2 p.m., Elf has shows at 1 and 5:30 p.m., and Santa’s sleigh takes its final flight in Ken Ludwig’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at 10 a.m. Ready to move on from the holidays? Blue Man Group presents its wacky hijinks with a New Year’s twist at 1 and 4 p.m.
4. Learn about other cultures’ traditions
Did you know that in Spain, they eat 12 grapes for a year of good fortune? Or that Filipinos wear polka dots to represent prosperity? Learn about the ways other cultures ring in the New Year, and maybe even try a few of those traditions for yourselves. Some of Chicago’s cultural museums, like the National Hellenic Museum, even have programs to celebrate the dawning of 2018.
5. Make some kiddie cocktails
They can’t indulge in champagne, but kids can have their own celebratory drinks to toast with. Want to think outside the Shirley Temple box? Check out these three recipes from a Chicago chef (and dad).
6. Have a sleepover
The ultimate way to celebrate New Year’s is not having to make the bed. Start 2018 with a mini staycation at a kid-friendly hotel, where they won’t bat an eye if your kids don’t behave like perfect angels. Or treat your littles to a late holiday present with a stay at the ultra-luxe Four Seasons, which includes a visit from the real-life ice cream man – and the pool that was featured in Home Alone 2!
7. Get your head in the game
We live in one of the greatest cities in the world for sports fans, but the holidays tend to be a quieter time of year for athletic endeavors. The Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks are on the road, so our awesome minor league teams step up to show us the sports love. Head to Allstate Arena on Dec. 30 to see the Chicago Wolves take on their rival Rockford IceHogs, or check out the Chicago Steel on Dec. 31 for a Family Sunday that includes on-ice skating.
8. Celebrate with the animals
The animal kingdom doesn’t pay much attention to the passage of time, but it’s still a blast to ring in the New Year with some ring-tailed lemurs! Brookfield Zoo’s annual celebration includes music, games and an early countdown, while Lincoln Park Zoo will hand out complimentary festive hats, horns and party favors to visitors of ZooLights.
9. Make your own hot chocolate bar
You can stay in but still spice it up. Let your kids add their favorite toppings to a cup of steaming hot chocolate – Pinterest has your back! – or steal some of our own sweet ideas for a hot chocolate bar that is beyond.
10. Enjoy some throwback fun
Your childhood might not have been all that high-tech, but don’t underestimate its appeal to your kids. Take a spin around a favorite roller rink (Lombard Roller Rink has special New Year’s Eve hours), bowl a couple of games at your local bowling alley – with or without bumpers – or laugh yourselves silly with some bumper cars. With fun like this, your kids will wish they were born in the ‘70s or ‘80s!
11. Take a cruise
The view is great from the lake! Head out on the water and celebrate a new year with the epic Windy City skyline as your backdrop. The New Year’s Eve Family Cruise takes place in the afternoon and includes champagne for the grownups and a live DJ (plus family fun!) for all.
12. Make some fun resolutions
Forget “exercise more” or “go to bed earlier.” Get each member of the family to make a fun resolution for your whole crew: eat pancakes for dinner once a week or have a family dance party on Sunday nights. The family that plays together, stays together!
13. Have a movie marathon
You don’t have to go to the theater to catch the latest buzzy flicks; thanks to streaming services, you can watch them from your own cozy home. Catch up on all the family blockbusters that you missed on the big screen, or let your kids re-watch their favorites from the past year. Better yet, introduce your kids to the movies of your own childhood: The Little Rascals, The Santa Clause and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective all are making their debuts on Netflix this month.
14. Game it up
Arcades are a great spot for some family time since they offer so many options for different ages and interests. Haunted Trails Family Amusement Park (locations in Joliet and Burbank) is even having a Family New Year’s Eve Party that combines the best in gaming with the best in end-of-year fun. The Monsters’ Tomb Game Room has more than 100 choices, including some of your childhood faves.
15. Make your own fireworks
Before the big show over Lake Michigan, create your own ooohs and aaahs with this easy, at-home craft.
16. Go on a hike
The holidays promise extra pounds, if nothing else, so get started on that New Year’s resolution right away. Waterfall Glen in Darien offers a New Year’s Day Hike, complete with info on local wildlife and plants, or just explore your local forest preserve with the family. Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden are also open for some unstructured wandering.
17. Count down your favorite memories from ‘17
“Remember that time…?” You might be surprised by what your kids recall from the year that we’re leaving behind. Have every member of your family write down (or draw) their favorite moments from 2017, then gather around before midnight – or bedtime, whichever comes first – to read them out loud. Laughter is sure to result.
18. Kisses at midnight
Pucker up! The first kiss of the New Year doesn’t have to be literal. Check out these mouthwatering recipes that make use of the best candy of our times, Hershey Kisses. Or just leave one on your kids’ pillows as a sweet way to wake up on Jan. 1.