Let the countdown begin

A few days after Christmas last year, we sadly realized that neither of us had any fun plans for New Year’s Eve. Getting a sitter at that point would have been as easy as flying to New York City on private jets to see the ball drop. So we did the next best thing: we came up with a fun New Year’s celebration of our own.

Our goal was to ring in the new year in a festive way, entertain our kids of various ages and create a night where even the youngest party animals could enjoy the big countdown without actually staying up until midnight. It dawned on us that we might be able to teach our kids a little about how the rest of the world was partying the night away, too.

Using a world map, we designed an international New Year’s night to remember. Here’s what we did:

•The pre-production: For this global affair, a giant world map is your one absolute necessity. We bought one that displayed the 24 different time zones and affixed it to the dining room wall. (Try www.randmcnally.com or www.maps.com). If you can’t find one with time zones, simply draw them in yourself with a ruler. We selected several countries on which to focus. We chose Iceland as our main country since its clocks strike midnight when it’s 7 p.m. in Chicago. This seemed like the perfect kid-friendly hour to hold our own countdown to the New Year. We also chose to highlight Mexico, France, South Africa, Thailand and Indonesia. Your choices are almost endless so have fun picking the ones your family finds fascinating.

• Setting the stage: After a little online research, we chose to focus on just one country for our menu, but serving up a sampling of dishes from around the world is another great way to go. For Iceland we decided to use the country’s name for inspiration, rather than trying to coax our kids into eating Icelandic foods. Some of our selections included decaffeinated iced tea, sliced veggies, hamburgers on bland buns (no sesame seeds) and a big ice cream bar for dessert. We also learned how to say"Happy New Year!” in Icelandic (“Farsaelt komandi ar!”). And since no good party is complete without some rockin’ tunes, we made a fun CD of different versions of Auld Lang Sine. You won’t believe how many options there are on iTunes. (Check out the version by the Ripcordz!) You can also create an eclectic playlist from around the world and have the kids guess each song’s origin.

Let the games begin

Now that your stage is set and the food is decided, you’re ready to play. Three good activities are plenty to keep the kids engaged and entertained throughout the night. Here are some games to help you kick up the evening:

Pin the Country on its Time Zone

This is an activity that even toddlers can do. First print out or copy map images of various countries and put them in a bowl or basket. You can usually find images by going to Google and typing in your country’s name along with the word"images.” Next, have the kids take turns selecting an image and working as quickly as they can, find it on the large wall map. This is also fun as a team/relay game, giving each team four or five countries to find as the timer ticks.

New Year's Riddles

First create simple cards out of cardstock cut into the shape of map"flags.” Now use your creative juices to compose short riddles for various countries. Each riddle will reveal information about how people from around the world might be celebrating New Year’s Eve at that very moment. After someone has solved the riddle they post the flag on the wall world map and receive a small prize.

For example:

In the hopes of bringing farmers much rain,

this country does something that might seem insane…

Folks run down the street in a mad dash—

They throw buckets of water and cheer with a splash!

Can you guess where this is? (Answer: Thailand)

Say What?

Each hour on the hour stop everything and ring a small bell or kitchen timer indicating it is time to"ring in” the New Year with a different country. (Don’t feel like you need to do this when they’re actually ringing it in—it will really limit your options.) When the bell rings, your guests must figure out who is yelling"Happy New Year” around the world. The only clue is the bell ringer’s best pronunciation of"Happy New Year” in that country’s language. Whoever guesses the country correctly gets to be the next bell ringer. Try"Felice Anno Nuovo!” (Answer: Italy) Check the Internet for pronunciation help.

Wrapping it up

Before the first overtired tantrum begins, bring your party to a smashing, climactic countdown close. Here in the U.S., many folks welcome in the next 12 months with some heavy metal usually of the non-stick variety. Grab a few pots and pans and wooden spoons, open up the back door and let them have at it. When else can they make this much noise without getting in trouble?

If you’re looking at another sitter-less New Year’s with the kids, invite some friends, hit the Internet and have a"Heri ya Mwaka Mpya!” with your crew. You just might learn a few things along the way.

Meredith Sinclair, a featured blogger at ChicagoParent.com, is a mom of two boys living in Wilmette. Mande Mischler is a former advertising executive who now spends all her time with her children.

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