In planning this kind of party, I join the ranks of the superstitious in believing that what we do and what we eat on New Year's Day will set the tone for the coming year. So I recommend planning a casual and comfortable party, that is filled with elegant, luxury touches to bring good fortune in the coming year.
Setting the Stage
When you invite your guests, tell them it will be a relaxed party - after all, who wants an upcoming year filled with stress? No fancy clothes required, keep the hours flexible, and start no earlier than 11:00am so that you won't have to get up early to prepare on New Year's morning, while everyone else is still in the midst of celebrating the Eve.
Keep your decorations simple, cheerful and uncluttered. Allow for plenty of 'white' space, which is much more soothing to any guests who overindulged the previous night, than busy, fussy decorations. Plan to have your florist deliver several beautiful arrangements to place in strategic locations around your home including the room where you will be setting out the buffet, the room where you expect most people to eat, and by the door to welcome your guests. Colorful, cheerful, fresh flowers create the kind of sunny mood I'd like to set for the year ahead.
Take advantage of high quality, time-saving, prepared foods and disposable plates, glasses, cups and flatware. After all, you don't want to set the precedent for the upcoming year of being a slave to the kitchen. That is, of course, unless you can afford domestic help to wash your crystal, china and silver after the party! Use your real linens on the table to keep the mood elegant, but do any necessary ironing touch-ups during the week before so you don't have to worry about it on the day of your party. And don't even think of washing them until later in the week.
What to Serve
Give plenty of thought to the beverages that you plan to serve. Freshly brewed, strong, caffeinated coffee is a must, or you may find your guests making a beeline for the nearest diner. You should also have Bloody Marys on hand for anyone who needs a little "hair of the dog" cure. Champagne is a must for toasting the day. Buy the best you can afford, and if your budget is small, plan on serving Mimosas instead. A holiday punch would also be a nice touch. Don't forget to serve a selection of fruit juices.
There are many superstitions about the kind of food you should eat on New Year's Day, but before we get to that, remember most people will be expecting some variety of breakfast foods since this will be a brunch. You can make or buy a selection of breakfast breads the week before that you can freeze, and then reheat on the morning of New Year's Day. If you have a local bagel store, purchase a selection of fresh bagels that morning and offer cream cheese, butters, jellies and other favorite toppings.
An egg casserole is also a very simple item to lay out on a breakfast buffet. I recently made the Baked Eggs with Cheese and Herbs recipe from Greystone Manor, and by grating my cheese the previous day, was able to put it together in about 5 minutes the morning I served it. If you are not planning to go out on New Year's Eve, there are many breakfast casseroles that can be prepared the night before, refrigerated, and baked in the morning. Some of these include overnight French toast recipes that can offer a sweet start to the day. A pre-cooked, baked ham on your buffet table will work as both a breakfast side dish, and a lunch entrée.
To bring good fortune in the coming year, I would be sure to add at least a few luxury foods. Caviar always makes a statement and conveys a sense of pampering decadence. Smoked seafood makes a beautiful presentation, requires no work by the host, and is great for brunch. You can pick from any of these smoked possibilities: salmon, mussels, shrimp, trout, scallops, tuna or whitefish. Serve small slices of pumpernickel bread, water crackers, dill mayonnaise, horseradish sauce, capers and chopped red onion on the side.
Traditional good luck foods for New Year's Day are usually representative of coins or dollars. A Southern favorite is Hoppin' John, a recipe made with black-eyed peas. Collards are another Southern favorite, with the collards representing dollar bills. In Italian culinary tradition, lentils fulfill the edible promise of money, and they can be prepared with or without meat. In Chinese culture there are several good luck foods such as noodles for long life, or spring rolls representative of gold bars. You might even have your own lucky foods such as the popcorn you ate during your first date with your spouse or the mango you had on the morning your first child was born. Don't be shy about incorporating your own special traditions into your feast and sharing the fortune with your guests.
Finally, don't forget dessert! Everything can be purchased through mail order or online. Cheesecakes, chocolate tortes, pies, chocolates, layer cakes, pick your passion, but make it all as sweetly decadent as you can imagine. After all, by treating yourself and friends well on New Year's Day, you've set the best precedent of all for the rest of the year.