In his book "A Good Enough Parent," Bruno Bettelheim argued that holidays are critical to psychological development, because they provide a reliable, regular occasion when children find themselves "in the center of affectionate attention and are made to feel important. If such occasions are celebrated in the right spirit, the glow from these days can spread out over the rest of life."

New Year's is a good place to start.the lack of ingrained tradition associated with this holiday is an advantage, because it grants families freedom and flexibility to shape it in whatever way suits them. Parents with small children don't have to wait until midnight to celebrate.... Age-old traditions like opening the door at midnight to welcome in the new year can be combined with a family's invented rituals, such as attaching resolutions to helium balloons and releasing them to the heavens....

First Footing
"In Scotland," explains Jim Sanford of Warren, Vt., "they say the first person to cross your threshold at the new year should be a dark, handsome young man in a kilt or black tie, and he brings four gifts: coal, to symbolize warmth; a black bun for healthy food; a bottle of Scotch whiskey for prosperity; and then some salt, to remind you that all the good things of life don't come without sadness." The dark-haired, handsome young man who crosses local Vermonters' thresholds is the Sanfords' middle son, Owen, who was about seven when the practice began six or seven years ago.... Unlike the Scots, who carry out the ritual shortly after midnight, Jim and his son leave their home about 8:30 a.m. on New Year's Day, visiting eight or nine friends, who aren't warned in advance.

Owen and Jim walk in a family's front door without a word and put the logs on the hearth or wood stove and a bun on the kitchen table. They then sprinkle salt and nuts on the table. Jim reads a small printed text explaining the ritual.... "People are surprised and delighted," says Jim. "For us it says to our friends, 'We feel good enough about you guys to come over and wish your family well.'"

Resolutions in a Nutshell
The Hilton family of Henderson, Nev., has an unusual way of recording and reviewing its New Year's resolutions. On New Year's Eve, each member of the family writes his or her own resolutions down on a small strip of paper and folds it inside an empty walnut shell. The walnuts are glued shut and ribbons attached to the ends, and the nuts are then hung on the family's Christmas tree....

The next Christmas, the walnuts go back on the tree with the other ornaments. And when New Year's rolls around, it's time to open the walnuts to review last year's resolutions and write new ones for the year just beginning.... Says Nanette Hilton, mother of three small girls, "It makes children realize they can accomplish things and life is fluid, a continuous process. They also see Mommy and Daddy working on goals, struggling, succeeding, and sometimes failing."

A Family-Centered Celebration
In Merchantville, N.J., Susan Lynch isn't quite ready to have her girls, ages 10 and 12, stay up till midnight. At the Lynch house, the "ball" drops at 8:00 p.m., which simply means that the family does its own countdown after dinner, shouting out the seconds before the hour as though it were midnight. The new year is toasted with sparkling apple cider, served in crystal wine glasses.... "After we eat, we go around the table and each of us makes a resolution about something we'll do in the new year to make us a better person. Plus, we say what we were most proud of in the year just ending." After dinner it's time for a board game chosen by the girls, and then the countdown begins.

Recap of the Year
The Reichman family of New Rochelle, N.Y., makes a special New Year's collage on a big piece of poster board. The first time, Francine Reichman, the mother of two, glued red yarn to the top to spell out "Farewell 1996," and then the family started adding photos and mementos chronologically...magazine photos of snow scenes, photos from family trips, a flier for the house they bought that year, pictures of birthday parties, ticket stubs....

"To me, the new year is such an important passage and a great time to look back on the old year, but there aren't enough traditions to celebrate it," says Francine. "Creating the collage together helped us savor memories of some really wonderful things we'd almost forgotten."

Lucky Sauerkraut
The Leventry family of Summerhill, Pa., favors quiet New Year's celebrations, but they always leave the front door open and the house lights on until midnight "to let the good luck in," says Karen Leventry. And they observe German traditions of "lucky" foods for New Year's Day, including sauerkraut. Karen actually hates sauerkraut and refused to eat it one year, to her regret. "We came back from Granny's and found our refrigerator broken, and that year, almost every appliance in the house broke," she says. "I kept hearing, 'If you had only eaten your sauerkraut....'"

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