The New Year's Eve Survival Guide

Here are 5 rules to ensure that you not only make it to 2011 alive, but that your celebration is a rousing, wild success

Revelers kiss as they celebrate during New Year celebrations in New York. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

New Year's Eve is an awful, awful holiday.

First, it celebrates absolutely nothing. Most holidays have some sort of spiritual or historical significance—an underlying theme that gives meaning and purpose to the festivities. Not New Year's Eve. December 31st doesn't commemorate a religious event or the founding of a nation. The holiday only exists as a quirk of timekeeping, and wearing fancy clothes to party because December is turning to January makes about as much sense as putting on a tux to watch an odometer roll from 99,999 to 100,000.

The holiday is risky, too. And not just the threat of being horribly overcharged for watery drinks.

New Year's Eve is the ultimate Amateur Night—even worse than St. Patrick's Day or Halloween. On New Year's, tens of millions of Americans who are unaccustomed to hard drinking will binge all night like college kids on Spring Break—swarms of besotted humanity clogging otherwise pleasant bars and restaurants, yelling, crying, fighting, stumbling, kissing, barfing, and generally creating a sense of chaos.

The sheer number of revelers—and intensity of their revels—makes New Year's Eve a kind of logic-free zone, where anything can happen and usually does. You might find a hundred-dollar bill on the street. Or you might be the moron who loses a hundred dollars. You might find yourself in Vegas getting busy with a pretty blonde woman who later turns out to be a transsexual man. These things happen.

Given the hazards, in fact, it's a wonder any of us get through it alive. With a little advance planning, though, and strict, unwavering adherence to five simple rules, you can not only survive the holiday, but maybe even have a little fun along the way.

Rule #1: Rule Bring Your Own Booze

Under normal circumstances, sneaking liquor into a bar is very bad form. If you are caught drinking from a private stash, you will most likely be removed from the premises. Forcibly. On New Year's Eve, though, bars and clubs are so packed it's impossible to be served in a timely manner. Literally bootlegging is the only way to go. Besides, bartenders are usually so busy on New Year's you'll actually be doing them a favor by serving your own beverage needs. Just don't let anyone catch you doing it.

Rule #2 Don't Wear Ugly Hats

If you are going to celebrate a holiday—any holiday—don't be half-assed about it.

Every crowd has one dork who shows up to costume parties in street clothes, or goes drinking on St. Patty's Day and refuses wear green. Don't be that dork. If you are at Mardi Gras, go crazy for the beads. If you go to an Ugly Sweater party, wear something hideous. A proper New Year's partier needs noisemakers, balloons, novelty sunglasses, and, especially, silly hats. It is utterly vital, though, that you make the right hat choice, lest your evening be doomed. Never, ever wear a cone-shaped hat. Please. Ever. Oh, it may say "Happy New Year!" on the side, but everyone who sees you will just think, "Dunce." Get a purple plastic bowler with pink feathers, or don a shiny green cardboard top hat. Anything but a cone. Consider this: conical hats are traditionally only worn for two occasions; at children's birthday parties, where parents force kids to wear them, and on New Year's Eve, when people are too hammered to know any better. That's got to tell you something.

Rule #3 Don't Kill Anybody

Everyone knows that taxis can be expensive, and mass transit isn't always convenient. Being a designated driver is certainly noble, though staying sober and chauffeuring a bunch of friends around while they party Auld Lang-style is a good way to end up hating your friends. Those options are all superior, however, to crashing your car into a busload of schoolchildren because you were too drunk to drive, too macho to admit it, and too cheap to spring for cab fare.

Rule #3, Part II: Seriously, Please Don't Kill People

The tradition of shooting guns to ring in the new year is as ancient as gunpowder. But that doesn't make it any less stupid. Every year a few people get hurt or even killed by a supposedly harmless falling shell. This is simple: if you can't shoot safely, don't shoot.

Rule #4: Don't Get Dumped

New Year's Eve is absolutely deadly for couples. If your relationship has a weakness, New Year's will find it. It's like the Cobra Kai dojo of holidays—the one that's never afraid to sweep the leg.

The problem is hype. All the anticipation and expense creates high expectations, which in turn create pressure for everything to go well. Which, in turn, virtually ensures that everything won't go well at all, and those high expectations will be mercilessly dashed.

Plus, you have the irritant of substance abuse. As the proverb says, "In wine, the truth." On New Year's Eve, it's not unusual for folks to have way more truth than they can handle. For single people, that overindulgence might manifest itself as drunk-dialing an ex-lover or an ill-advised booty call. For couples, though, the danger is that too much truth will turn into an "I'm Just Being Honest" conversation—the kind that starts with "You know what your problem is?" and ends with someone trying to hail a cab at 3:00 am, with no shoes, in the middle of a blizzard.

The most dangerous moment by far, of course, is the countdown to midnight. Here, single people have a choice. They can slip away from the crowd before the countdown—and so avoid the loneliness of seeing all the happy couples kiss—or just scream at midnight with everyone else, and try to suck face with the nearest warm body.

Couples don't have that choice. The laws of relationships, as defined by Hollywood and Oprah, demand all couples kiss and whisper something intimate to each other at midnight.

For most women, obviously, that's not a problem. For most men, it's a minefield—an opportunity to mumble something inappropriate about dogs or football, possibly swear, then leave for the bathroom—so taking one giant step closer to that 3:00 am blizzard.

To avoid that fate, men have to plan something to say beforehand. Write it down, even. Better yet, use one of the umpteen gift cards you got for Hannukah-Solstice-Christmas-Kwanza to buy her a little gift, then give it to her in the first few seconds of the new year.

Rule #5: Don't Lose Things

Despite all the potential for exotic misadventures and emotional trauma, the number-one overall cause of ruined New Year's Eves—by a wide margin—is losing stuff. Wallets, keys, coats, hubcaps. An occasional kidney. Remember in grade school when mom pinned mittens to your coat so you wouldn't lose them? Mom was ahead of her time.

Bonus Rule: Never, Ever Make a List of New Year's Resolutions.

Frankly, no one does that anymore—except maybe grandmas, local news anchors, and journalists desperate for a year-end premise. If you must resolve stuff, for goodness sake, don't yak about it. Prattling about your need to lose ten pounds doesn't suddenly get more interesting or less vain because a new year is starting.

If you do make it safely to January 1 (if you wake to find you are not in jail, all your limbs and vital organs are in tact, and that you spent under a thousand dollars, consider your New Year's celebration a rousing, wild success), you might even want to start the year off right, by kneeling down and giving thanks for what matters most: the 14 straight hours of college football bowl games that you are just about to watch.