New Year's has gone to the kids

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 25, 2011 - 6:32 PM

Family-oriented parties are booming these days, while their adult-only counterparts are taking a back seat.

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As he has on New Year's Eve for decades, an aging Father Time will step aside for Baby New Year. Except instead of being a symbolic transition, it's becoming literal as an increasing number of those doing the celebrating are children.

"Family-friendly" celebrations are booming. New kid-themed parties are turning up every year, and existing family festivities are expanding amid more reports that some gatherings are selling out.

While no organization keeps statistics on the matter, anecdotal evidence indicates that although the club scene remains active among childless revelers, once kids come along, fewer parents are leaving their children with a sitter while they go out to welcome in the new year.

"Parents are looking for opportunities to include their kids whenever they can," said Kylee Breems, public relations manager at the Minnesota Children's Museum, which is holding a New Year's Sparkle-rama from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

She was speaking in both a professional and personal capacity. As the mother of an 18-month-old, "I can appreciate why parents do that. You want to spend any time you can with your children. I don't want to stay out."

Lori Mylan will be staying home, but not by choice. The founder and owner of Happy Faces, a party planning business based in Long Lake, said, "I've been in this business a long time -- since 1981 -- and this is the worst I've ever seen it."

Asked to elaborate, she added: "We used to work three, sometimes four parties in country clubs every year. This year, I've got nothing. I did OK with kid parties leading up to Christmas, but adult parties for New Year's are dead."

She blames the economy -- "People don't feel good about spending money right now," she said -- and concerns about heightened drunken driving enforcement.

"You know where people are going to parties this year? They're walking across the street to a neighbor's house," she said. "People are being much more cautious. They don't want to deal with the liabilities connected to drunken driving."

Meanwhile, parties aimed at families are scrambling to accommodate all who want to attend. The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory has gotten such strong response to its Noon Year's party, in which families celebrate from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., that it added a second installment this year.

"We're going to do it both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day," said spokesman Matt Reinartz. Instead of having a countdown to midnight, "We'll have a countdown to noon." And in a nod to Times Square and its famous New Year's Eve ball drop, they'll drop a beach ball.

He plans to be there with his kids. Like Breems, he cherishes that opportunity.

"I want to spend as much time with my kids as I can," he said. "Every weekend, our focus is on things we can do as a family."

From old to new

One of the Twin Cities' original kid parties is being held for the 25th year at the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield. Held from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, the centerpiece of the Candlelight and Ice celebration is -- as its name indicates -- a hike along the nature preserve's trails, which will be illuminated by candles.

On the other end of the tenure spectrum, one of the newest family-oriented parties will take place at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, where children's singer Jack Pearson will perform a concert at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Minneapolis Park Board had planned to have skiing and sledding party at Wirth Park, but that was scuttled by a lack of cooperation from Mother Nature. However, a Night Before New Year's Eve Party is still on for 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Nokomis Park, where there will be indoor activities and hay rides.

There will be festivities in other parks, too, including Rice Park in St. Paul (11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday), Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan (5 to 8 p.m.) and Fort Snelling State Park (3 to 9 p.m.). Maple Grove moved its party inside to the Maple Grove Community Center (6 to 10 p.m.).

As the night goes on, many entertainment and recreation centers, including bowling alleys and ski areas, will transition from a kid atmosphere to an older one. That includes the Mall of America, which is expecting "crowds in the thousands" for its Rock the Universe party from 6 p.m. to midnight at Nickelodeon Universe.

"We start with a kid focus and then gradually switch over to more of a teen demographic," said Bridget Jewell, the mall's public relations manager. This will be the 10th year for the party, which has seen a rise in attendance each year.

There is a caveat, however: "It's a Saturday, and our normal Saturday night escort rules will be in effect," she warned. "That means that no one under 16 will be admitted after 4 p.m. unless accompanied by an adult."

Perhaps there's one last calling for Father Time, after all: He can escort kids to the party.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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