Not waiting for the midnight hour: Area residents, businesses share alternative traditions for New Year’s Eve


Every three years or so, fire engineer Wendi Smith with the Denver Fire Department finds herself working on New Year’s Eve — a 24-hour shift starting at 7:30 a.m., usually entailing a constant stream of work and very little downtime to ring in the new year.

Preparing for that means spending Jan. 1 relaxing at home, enjoying a homemade dinner and catching up with her kids, she said.

“In the day, I get as much downtime as I can get, because you’re up all night long working New Year’s Eve,” she said.

It’s not the first thing some may think of when planning the holiday. But for Smith, spending time with family all day and seeing coworkers at night is an enjoyable tradition.

“My coworkers are like family to me,” she said. “I love my job. I love being able to help people every day.”

A laid-back New Year's is almost a necessity for first responders working that night, but they’re far from the only group looking for an alternative to midnight parties.

Across the Denver area, there’s plenty of opportunity for individuals to celebrate with family and get to bed before midnight — and, added Denver mom Amber Johnson, one of the best places to make that happen is right at home.

Having been born and raised in Canada, Johnson always threw parties at home for her kids to celebrate when the clock struck midnight in Newfoundland — at 8:30 p.m. in Colorado — back when her kids were younger.

“We would make a cupcake bar with all kinds of fun toppings, and buy cheap plastic champagne glasses and make mocktails,” said Johnson, who founded blog Mile High Mamas. “It was only 9 p.m., but the kids never knew the difference. And everyone could get to bed at a decent time — mostly mom.”

Family-friendly events

Meanwhile, for those who want to celebrate early outside the house, the area offers a multitude of family-friendly gatherings during the day and early evening.

Jefferson County Public Library will hold “Noon Year’s Eve” around 12 p.m. Dec. 31 at several of its libraries, including the Lakewood, Columbine and Evergreen libraries.

The Standley Lake Library and Golden Library will hold European-themed events at 3 and 3:30 p.m., respectively, celebrating with music, games, food and a balloon drop, said programs manager Cindy Jaye.

Denver-area families can also end their year by attending “the largest family-friendly event” in the area, said Evergreen Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Hays.

The chamber will put on the Skate the Lake Festival from 6 to 10 p.m. New Year’s Eve at Evergreen Lake. The family event typically draws a crowd of about 2,000, Hays said.

This year, festivities will include fireworks, a bounce house, snacks and a photo booth.

Though a main draw of the event traditionally is the opportunity to skate on the lake, the activity may not be available because of warm weather and nearby construction, Hays said.

In previous years, warm weather canceled the event, she said; this year, however, “we want to have this event no matter what the weather conditions are.”

Ticket sales will support five local nonprofits chosen by the chamber, making it one of the only Colorado fundraisers running Dec. 31, she said.

“This is a family event and we wanted to choose organizations that impact our families in a positive way,” she said.

For those with special needs

Another early-night event will take place from 4:30 to 9 p.m. at the Denver Zoo, which will host a New Year’s Event specifically for those with disabilities.

“We are a zoo for all, so for the first time in our history, we are offering a low-sensory night on New Year’s Eve,” community affairs manager Megan Deffner said.

The low-sensory night will make changes to the last night of Zoo Lights, which sees the zoo decorated with Christmas lights. Accommodations will include capping attendance at about 2,500 people, instead of the usual 6,500; removing strobe lights; lowering music volume; and providing headphones, visors and other resources.

“Zoo Lights is our biggest event of the year, but when you’re looking at a typical Zoo Lights night, it can be very overwhelming for this population,” Deffner said. “We wanted to take that experience and make it more open. We’re very excited to be able to offer this.”


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