When did New Year's Eve get so expensive? From cover charges to fancy dinners to overpriced bubbly, celebrating the last night of the year can be a real budget problem -- especially after buying all those holiday presents. That's why we offer an alternative. Here are 9 ideas for interesting and affordable ways to ring in the New Year as a couple:
Make memories and resolutions.
This night is traditionally one of nostalgia, when you think about your past and ways to make your future better. Devote this New Year's Eve to reliving highlights of your time together. Crack open the photo albums, spread out the mementoes -- "Here's the ticket stub from the Sting concert. Remember that great little place where we went to dinner right before? The waiter kept..." Don't stay mired in the past, sweet as it may be. Instead, also make relationship resolutions for the upcoming year. For example, you promise not to nag when he has to stay late at work, while he vows to make his tardiness well worth your while when he finally shows. You can also pledge not just to say you'll save up money for a Caribbean vacation but actually set aside a trip kitty. The couple that plays together stays together, after all.
Get passionate at a picnic for two.
If you're lucky enough to live in a warm climate, plan a picnic at your favorite outdoor nook (beach, mountain, desert). Spread a blanket, feed each other aphrodisiacs (oysters, anyone?), sip champagne from crystal flutes, read poetry aloud, watch the stars and wish upon them. Many communities have public fireworks shows on New Year's. If you have the chance, be sure to set up your picnic within full view. For couples living in cooler climates, what's more romantic than a picnic in front of a cozy fireplace?
Happy Nude Year!
Want to do something truly different and just a touch daring? Greet your guy at the door wearing nothing but a trench coat -- and a smile. Or better yet, leave a trail of freshly discarded clothing, leading him from your front door straight to the bedroom. Leave him clues: a note here, a nightie there and, of course chilled champagne and strawberries to discover along the way. Want to get really risque? It's more expensive than an evening at home but try ringing in the New Year at a "clothing optional" resort. It's becoming increasingly popular for regular people (not just swingers!) If you're game for taking your nudity to the next level, start at www.nudetravelguide.com, which recommends specific resorts and includes instructive FAQs for first-timers: "Get dressed before you leave the clothing optional area" and "gawking is impolite. Of course, if you opt for nudity at home, you can gawk all you want.
You'll feel warm and fuzzy inside -- and toward one another -- if you spend New Year's Eve doing something meaningful. For instance, visit a local hospital ward for children, bearing gifts and prepared to sing songs. Serve dinner at a soup kitchen. Good deeds don't have to be anonymous either. Send a care package, full of hope and promise for the year ahead, to an elderly relative. Add cookies, hot chocolate, crossword puzzles and, of course, a calendar. Or prepare a meal -- from salad to dessert -- and bring it to a friend who needs help (for example, someone recovering from an illness). Share your love with your partner and your community!
Ultimate, intimate candlelit dinner.
Start by sprinkling rose petals leading into the kitchen, and have the table set with a lovely tablecloth, fresh flowers, two long-stem candles (unscented) -- and of course a delicious meal. Have soft music in the background and let the candles light the food. After dinner, suggest a slow dance, then snuggle up together for a romantic flick or take a bath together in the dark. When you're ready to retire to the bedroom, have massage oil and scented candles ready to set the mood. No matter what comes next, you'll definitely be aglow with pleasure in 2004.
Why wait until the sun goes down to start the party? New Year's Eve is the perfect day to spend skating, hiking, bike riding or on a long drive with no particular destination. Along the way, make a point of sharing your resolutions for the coming year.
Celebrate in the city.
Various towns and cities sponsor New Year's activities starting exactly at 12am. For example, New York holds an annual midnight run in Central Park. Most people dress up in costume -- including Santa and a sleigh pulled by eight people dressed as reindeer. Baltimoreans at the Inner Harbor can ice skate to today's hottest music and take in a magical fireworks display at the stroke of midnight. Check your local paper or call your Chamber of Commerce for upcoming events in your area.
Gently into the night.
Want to get as far from drunk and boisterous New Year's celebrants as possible? Then meditate your way into 2004. Meditation centers around the country often hold New Year's gatherings geared toward helping people achieve inner peace -- at least until they walk out into the noisy streets. Sitting meditation practice revolves around taming the mind by blocking out the 1,001 thoughts buzzing in your head and following your breath in and out. Of course, there's no law that says you have to leave your house to meditate. Get cozy on your living room floor. Just close your eyes and say "Ommm."
Monopoly and Clue are fun, but on this special night sexy games will bring more satisfaction. There's the tried-and-true Strip Poker as well as a few other naughty-but-nice diversions. Think body painting! Lay out some plastic on the floor or bed and have a variety of washable paints handy and use each other as a canvas. Chocolate body paint ($7.99), available at the iVillage Sex Boutique, makes the game even sweeter. Or you can start off the year by sending your lover a steamy message -- meet me in the backseat or let's play prom, courtesy of 365 Nights of Lust ($9.95). For once, playing games in your relationship is a good thing!