New Year's Eve is the most problematic night out in the calendar. While the pressure to have a good time is immense, the end result is often underwhelming, if not downright depressing. Worse still, it's one of the few holidays that doesn't reward personal effort. The more you put into New Year's Eve, the less you seem to get out of it, and the most ambitious plans are also the most easily thwarted. The best New Year's Eves, by contrast, seem to come about largely by accident. There is no guaranteed way to make it a success – but here are a few tips to help you make it through the night . . .
1. Approach the evening with the lowest possible expectations
New Year's Eve is never really that much fun, and it has the potential to be absolutely disastrous, so it's important that your hopes never rise. If you imagine the evening ahead being the equivalent of an endless night spent negotiating your way through a post-Apocalyptic landscape full of zombies in search of the world's last taxi, then your attitude on the night should be roughly in line with the likely outcomes.
2. Remember – it doesn't mean anything
New Year's Eve is a holiday of very little significance; you're basically celebrating the obsolescence of last year's wall calendar. There's not much in the way of ritual apart from getting ritually wasted. In fact, most of the older rites associated with new year date from when it was celebrated on 25 March, a day when there was a lot more to be happy about. Yes, people around the world have many interesting traditions associated with new year, some of which sound lovely, but for most of us New Year's Eve is just the night before a day off work, a night whose sole aim is to produce a hangover worth nursing. And this year it falls on a Friday, so it's basically just a Friday.
3. Don't drink too much . . .
This may be obvious advice – and among the least likely to be heeded on New Year's Eve – but it's worth pointing out that tonight is absolutely the worst night of the year to end up at A&E. It will be completely overcrowded, jammed full of well-dressed but shamefully disheveled people, all of them groaning, shouting and talking gibberish. In fact, A&E will probably look a lot like the party you've just just left, but with harsher overhead lighting.
4. . . . but be sure to drink enough
New Year's Day is usually characterised by bouts of guilt, shame, regret and self-reproach. Frankly, the less you remember about the previous evening, the better. New Year's Eve is also a night when virtually all of your fellow revellers will be too drunk to notice how drunk you are. Seize this once-a-year opportunity to be loud, indiscreet, incomprehensible and moronic, and then forget all about it in the morning. The proper alcohol-to-silliness ratio is notoriously difficult to get right, but the state you should be aiming for is what the police might term "drunk but not incapable". If they put you in the back of their van, you've gone too far.
5. Resist the temptation to take stock
This is not a good time to be moaning about all you have failed to achieve in life, any more than it is a good time to fall down some stairs. Neither is desirable, even if both are traditional. It's a mistake to look back on your life and take a measure at any time – what are the odds you'll be pleased? – but if you feel you must, wait a few days, or at least until your headache is gone.
6. It's OK if you don't go anywhere
Whenever they do a survey about New Year's Eve, more than half of respondents always say they plan to have a quiet night in. How many of them follow through on this promise is unclear, but it's by no means a terrible way to spend the night. Instead of dressing up and worrying about your personal safety, you can curl up in front of a log fire (only if you have one; please don't improvise) and while the night away drinking champagne and swearing at people on the television. Maybe that's what you do every night and you fancy a change, but if it appears to be your least-worst option, by all means take it.
7. New Year's Eve is dressy, not fancy-dressy
No rabbit ears, elephant trunks, hats with lights, hats with horns, tinsel scarves, giant 2011-shaped glasses or masks of any kind. Don't, in short, go out of your way to look a fool. Imagine yourself waking up on an empty train 12 stops past home, and think about what you'd like to be wearing when you ask the guard where you are.
8. Before you do anything madcap, irrepressible, devil-may-care or similar, check for CCTV
9. Wherever you go, don't wear your new Christmas coat
Chances are you'll never see it again. New Year's Eve tends to be one of those nights when retiring party-goers are content to go home wearing the first coat they find that looks vaguely like the one they went out in – it's black, it's got buttons, it must be mine! The person who took your coat will leave one behind that looks vaguely like yours, but you'll have to wait all night to find out which one it is, and it almost certainly won't be as nice. Only by wearing the old torn coat your Christmas coat was meant to replace do you stand a chance of benefiting from the unwitting exchange.
10. Pace yourself
This isn't just about alcohol. The problem with New Year's Eve is not that it ends so late, but that it begins too early. If you start with a glass of champagne at 4pm, you may well find your interest in the whole new year's project flagging by 11pm. The best way to kick off the evening is with a cup of tea and a nap.
11. Avoid amateurs
New Year's Eve provides a well-earned evening of transgression for people who don't really drink and hardly ever stay up past 10. Don't get stuck with a group of them. They may be very pleasant, and you may even be charmed by their heedless, headlong enthusiasm, but later on they're going to vomit and break their ankles, and you don't want to be in loco parentis for that.
12. Choose your event wisely
Specifically: if you get invited to a cool party and a boring party, don't even think about going to the boring party first, as a warm-up for the cool one. The transport network is under a lot of strain on New Year's Eve, and the odds of you getting stuck at the boring party, unable to find any way of getting to the cool party, are high. And it's considered terribly impolite to run round someone's sitting room grabbing people by the lapels and asking them if they know a minicab number.
13. Canapes aren't supper
Even if you have no ambitions beyond going out and getting bladdered, remember this: nothing will improve the chances of your evening being a success as much as eating an actual meal at some point between 5 and 10pm. If this sounds like spoilsport advice from a bad-tempered old man, it is.
14. If you are hosting a party, try to centre the evening on an activity other than the consumption of alcohol
This can be anything that takes your fancy – an end-of-year quiz, an impromptu skit, a talent competition, an awards ceremony, or some other form of planned entertainment. Try to engage guests in the sort of game for which being drunk is an impediment – it might make people drink a bit less, and even if it doesn't, people performing simple tasks badly because they are drunk is in itself inherently funny.
15. Make a written list of people not to cop off with
Let's face it – at 2am, a mental list isn't going to be any help at all. Note down the names in descending order of appropriateness: boss's wife; boss; ex-boyfriend; ex-girlfriend's mum; person you only know from Twitter; person you copped off with last year; troubled woman from accounts; doorman; acquaintance whose sexual orientation is only compatible with yours after six-and-a-half bottles of sparkling rosé. Put little boxes next to their names that you can tick after entanglement has been avoided, and stick it in your pocket. It won't be much of a deterrent, but you might want to know your score tomorrow.
16. Whatever you do, don't suddenly decide to go skating
You'll thank me for this.
17. Make no resolutions until tomorrow, or possibly the next day
A lot of people regard tonight as the final deadline for new year's resolutions. Don't be cajoled into making any hasty announcements about quitting smoking, taking guitar lessons or being more socially committed, especially if it's just for the sake of joining in. Last-minute resolutions are often impractical and undesirable. And besides – you don't want to find yourself committed to any statements you made while lying face down in a pile of dirty snow.
18. By the way, if your resolution for 2010 was to learn to play the guitar, tonight is not the night to demonstrate to everyone how far you've come in a year
19. Bear in mind that nothing you can subsequently be proud of will happen after midnight
I'm not saying you need to end your evening at 12 on the dot, as long as you remember it's all downhill from there.
20. It's OK to cry
Bursting into tears at a normal dinner party is generally taken as a sign that you're having either personal problems or a bad reaction to your medication, but on New Year's Eve it's considered perfectly normal, so feel free. You may still find it a little embarrassing to cry in public, especially if you're a man, but in many cases it's the least objectionable response to the circumstances. Crying in a taxi, for example, is much better than throwing up in a taxi. They don't even charge you extra for it.