Put your own spin on New Year’s Eve

Posted Dec. 25, 2009, at 4:20 p.m.

In Italy, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela and several other countries, wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve is believed to bring love, while wearing yellow underwear brings prosperity.

In many Spanish-speaking countries, the tradition on New Year’s Eve is to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight. With each grape, you make a wish. In the Philippines, it’s traditional to wear clothes with circular patterns and eat circle-shaped fruits, as circles attract wealth.

In the United States, it’s all about lowering (or tossing) objects, usually spherical in nature, from the tops of buildings. There’s the iconic Waterford crystal ball in New York City, of course. In California, a large orange is dropped, and in Atlanta, Ga., it’s a peach. In Bangor, it’s a beach ball covered in Christmas lights. In Eastport, it’s a giant sardine.

You get the idea.

Parties are the name of the game for New Year’s Eve. Bangor’s annual Downtown Countdown celebration, now in its fourth year, offers a multitude of events for children and adults, from music and dancing to making crafts and poetry readings.

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Belfast’s New Year’s By the Bay (www.nybb.org) offers activities all night long. There’s music and dancing in Eastport, Presque Isle and Blue Hill, lasting until the big hour.

There’s no shortage of things to do in eastern Maine for New Year’s.

Many folks, however, will host their own parties, with varying degrees of fanciness. While it is true that New Year’s Eve is often an excuse to get very dressed up and serve ornate hors d’oeuvres, it’s just as easy to host a laid-back event that still has plenty of high-class food and beverages, whether it’s grown-ups-only or kid-friendly.

No New Year’s Eve is complete without Champagne — or at least something like Champagne. A classic French cocktail is the Kir Royale, which combines Chambord (raspberry liqueur) floating on top of Champagne, which creates a visually striking contrast.

Mary Markson, a Rockland resident, serves a Champagne punch that she changes around a bit each year. While the combination of champagne, vodka and seltzer water remains the same, Markson changes the juice used each year. Last year, she used pomegranate juice, for a tangy twist.

“I’ve used white cranberry juice, and one year I used a peach nectar juice,” said Markson, who hosts a small gathering for friends and family most years. “It’s a pretty versatile recipe, though when I used the peach nectar I used a pear-flavored vodka, which was really tasty. The pomegranate is nice, though, because it’s not quite as sweet as other juices.”

Regardless of whether you’re imbibing adult beverages or staying booze-free, you’re probably staying up late to ring in the first few moments of 2010. Melanie Brooks, a Bangor-based writer, serves an alcoholic coffee drink, because even on New Year’s Eve it’s sometimes hard to stay up until midnight.

“I like to serve my Mexican coffee in a big red wine glass because it’s prettier that way,” said Brooks, who will be hosting a party at her home. “I love warm coffee drinks on New Year’s Eve, both to keep me toasty and for the caffeine.”

Aside from beverages, New Year’s Eve is also a chance to pull out some fun finger foods. Dana Moos, a Realtor in the Bar Harbor area, borrowed a Twitter friend’s recipe for Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread, a decadent but easy treat to offer while entertaining. The recipe originally called for homemade caramel, but Moos used store-bought caramel.

“I used store-bought caramel dip, the kind you find in the produce section near the apples, after reading that hers didn’t firm up as much as she’d hoped,” she said. “So I took a shortcut. And it actually paid off and came out perfect. These are like homemade Twix bars, but the cookie is a bit softer.”

If you’re on a budget, dressing up inexpensive ingredients with fancy trappings can save money and still make an impression. Pair potatoes with a spicy topping and a bit of roast beef, or cook up polenta with a handful of sun-dried tomatoes and onions for a lot of food for a lot of people. Or, splurge on lots of nice cheese and make a tasty dip.

Aside from food and drink, it’s up to you to provide the rest of the entertainment. Ryan Seacrest and MTV notwithstanding, New Year’s Eve is also about recollecting the past 365 days with your friends and families.

Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving or other holidays, the only expectation for New Year’s Eve is to have a good time. You can stay in your pajamas, or you can get dolled up in your fanciest party wear.

Let your New Year’s Eve be a predictor for the rest of 2010 — with your loved ones, in your own style.

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