Credit: Leela Cyd

Fun, Clever, and Cathartic Ways Kids and Parents Can Celebrate the End of 2020

published Dec 22, 2020
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Hey! 2020 is almost over! We are so ready. I don’t usually go big for New Year’s Eve, but this year feels different. Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering (and the mother of two young children), has advice that I have been clinging to. She urges us to plan holidays and occasions around a question: “What is it that I need most?”

This New Year’s Eve, here’s what I think we need: catharsis. Parents need catharsis as this wild ride of a year comes to a close, with its twists and turns of pandemic, school closings, health concern, financial crisis, political strife, and all manner of hidden stresses that remain unaddressed. Children need catharsis, as this year as been weird and mystifying. My children, 2 and 4, fantasize about their “other friends” and ask, “Can we do [insert fun thing] after the virus?” I want so much to mark the end of this year in a way that validates how bonkers it has been, and promises that change is coming.

But this season also doesn’t really feel joyful; no one has party energy to spare. My friend Bethia told me what I think many of us feel: “I think January is going to be really rough, so it’s hard to get excited about the New Year.” The hardships are not over, even for the most fortunate of us. We have the prospect of a long winter and a long queue for vaccinations. We’re all pre-ttyyy tired.

I personally need New Year’s to be a memorable moment to mark the fact that yes, this year really sucked, but we’re here! We’re together! We’re sweeping it out and moving forward as a family. Catharsis, over celebration.

But how to do that? How do we, as Priya Parker asks, “meet that need creatively and with joy?”To help us sweep 2020 out with gusto—and maybe a bonfire or two—we talked to a few smart, thoughtful parents about how to turn New Year’s Eve from an adult festivity into one that helps kids stomp out the end of the year. From quiet moments to loud ones, and sparklers to bonfires to screaming out the front door, we invite you to make this New Year’s one you and your cubs will never forget. 

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Count It

Before we get to the more dramatic ideas on this list, a reminder that “New Year’s” can happen any time of day. For little ones who certainly won’t make it until midnight, make a “countdown” any time of day, with an Advent-style paper chain (I love the bright one shared above; use neon paper for a similar effect). They can tear each chain link to pieces as you all shout, “10, 9, 8, … Happy New Year’s!” (If you have the fortitude, and a good vacuum cleaner, a confetti cannon is also a memorable touch.)

Share It

Kitchn Executive Food Director, Nina Elder, shared this brilliant idea many parents have embraced, of picking another country whose midnight lines up with a daylight time and observe “with” them. (Consult this chart to see what lines up with midnight your time.) You can even turn it into a cross-cultural teaching moment; my girls love Japanese dumplings, so we may bring in the New Year at 10 a.m. with Japan, send a happy New Year note to a friend there, then have a gyoza and edamame lunch.

Burn It

And now, for those who need a stronger catharsis, let’s get into some more dramatic ideas. I talked to my creative, clever friend Abbey, who shared the family tradition she will continue this year.

“My parent’s New Year’s Eve tradition is to have a raging bonfire. They burn all kinds of things in a cleansing ritual—one memorable year that meant a couch and an oil painting of my mother as a teenager (she was working out a complicated relationship with her own mother). HA! Fast forward to 2020 and I live with my family in a pretty suburban neighborhood, so no huge bonfire for us. However, in an attempt to grab back some creative energy, I’m considering lighting the fire pit and having each of us choose something to burn and release from this intense year: My 11-year-old suggested his online learning homework!”

Scrub It

Another way to satisfyingly wash away 2020? Scrub it out, by first making a huge mess. My girls love face-painting (this set has a satisfying amount of glitter included). Why not paint messages on their faces and tummies to send off the year: “2020 go away! 2020 sucks!” and then let them run around and jump into a huge tub of soap bubbles. Bonus: Turn off the lights, turn on some raucous music, and turn on a black light for a true nightclub at bath time. (Here’s a really easy way to make the water glow in the dark under a blacklight—so cool!)

Shout It

A little old-fashioned noise is something children love. Tell them that 2020 is almost gone, but we need their help to scare its tail away. Open the doors, give them pots and pans and wooden spoons, and set a timer for two minutes. Scream, yell, shout, freak your neighbors out. When the two minutes is up, shut the door and announce that 2020 has run away! They did it! Celebrate with hot cocoa.

Pop It!

Another really fun idea comes from the always brilliant Renu Blankinship of Makermint. She lets her kids pop confetti-filled balloons with a directions for a surprise activity inside. Add some sparking cider (and Champagne or Cremant for the adults) and it’s the catharsis of all the pop pop but also a fun party.

Light It

“Sparklers on the roof!” was my friend Chris’s answer to this question I sent to friends about New Year’s. For children and tweens who can stay up a little later, sparklers and lanterns are a quieter way to send out the old year. You can get extra-long sparklers (or church candles!). Go outside and light ’em up just after sundown.

March It

And if you want to combine the fizz of sparklers with a ceremonial march, march around your home or block once, twice, or three times in a homey parade to light the New Year’s way in.

Wake It!

For older children—tweens and teens—who love a good practical joke, let them go to bed as usual, then wake them up at midnight with loud music and crashing pans. March them downstairs to see the final ball drop, and for a non-alcoholic toast of sparkling juice, and a special treat. (Obviously don’t do this for the littler ones who are absolute fiends when woken up mid-sleep cycle.)

Smash It

The coronavirus piñata has had a meteoric career this year; what better way to send out 2020? For any age: Who wouldn’t like to smash a smug coronavirus ball full of candy? Here are instructions for making your own, and for the less crafty, an Etsy-sourced version, and another from Party City.

Bake It

One last, lovely, and meaningful tradition especially good for older children able to stay up late: Bake in 2021 by taking something delicious out of the oven just before midnight. This tradition was shared with us by Pooja Makhijani of Labor and Loaf, who does this with her 8-year-old daughter. She told me, “We always bake in the new year—something has to be out of the oven at the stroke of midnight.” She chooses something that can be breakfast on New Year’s Day: “Raisin bread this year, I think!”

…and Make the Morning After Feel New

And speaking of the morning after, whatever cathartic activity you engage in on New Year’s Eve—burning, shouting, popping, whacking, baking, bathing—try to do something for yourself and your children on New Year’s Day that makes the year feel new. I plan to do the classic but always-fun streamers on the bedroom doorframe, so when they open their door they’re greeted by bright yellow and gold streamers to run through. A little bit of magic.

Because, what is New Year’s Day, after all, but a powerful magic we make up out of thin air, by believing that something has changed, something is new, and something better is coming? Making that magic together is a big part of what being a family is all about.

Happy New Year from all of us at CubbyI