The most difficult party of the year is almost upon us: the regalia of New Year's Eve. High expectations and forced merriment for what turns out to be an interminably draggy evening are the inherent headaches of planning parties for The Big Night. Many guests willingly don party hats, blow horns and act like rebellious children. Others will refuse to swing noisemakers and will thereby destroy the fevered pitch so desired by some party-givers.

It may help those of us who entertain for pleasure to know that those in the business of party planning regard New Year's Eve with the same fear and trepidation as we. To help us come up with ideas for our own parties, some professional party planners have shared with us their suggestions for their ideal New Year's Eve.

Since no successful party will end until well after midnight, carefully planning the pace of the party is important. Many party planners suggest starting between 8:30 and 9 p.m., and they urge that guests take a nap during the day.

Surprise and the unusual are other important elements that will keep the night from turning into The Same Old New Year's Eve Party. Planner Mary Pettus of Mary Pettus & Associates, Inc., fancies an evening that takes flight in time and space, in a 24-hour-long jet ride that keeps crossing time zones and chasing midnight across the continents. Each new "midnight" is celebrated with champagne and food to match the geographical location. (Pettus only wishes she had a client to support such a trip.)

Rita Bloom of Creative Parties Ltd. in Kensington prefers a slower voyage to New York on the turn-of- the-century Zephyr train. Guests would go back in time to the early 1900s, with the women carrying parasols and wearing flowing dresses. After a midnight stop to watch the ball drop at Times Square and a champagne sunrise breakfast in a loft in Soho, the guests would return by train to Washington.

Sandra Wise of The Perfect Party in Springfield, Va., prefers the 1920s era and would rent a mansion at Oxon Hill or Wood End. As a special touch, she would personally deliver a miniature champagne glass as an invitation.

Getting into the 1930s, Cheryl Giattini of Washington Affairs would hold her party at the American Film Institute or at a movie theater hired for the evening. After being served champagne in the theater lobby, guests would come inside and watch a screening of the movie "My Man Godfrey," a 1936 madcap comedy with William Powell and Carole Lombard. At the end of the movie, Godfrey's true identity is revealed when he opens a beautiful night club on thesite of the city dump and hires the forgotten vagrants who lived at the dump to work as waiters. At that moment the atrium of the movie theater would also be transformed into a nightclub for the guests. As Giattini's reverie continues, coquilles saint jacques, poached

oysters and scallops with truffles

are served by Glorious Food. At

midnight as guests sip coffee and

munch on chocolate truffles,

sparklers are placed on the tables

to be lighted and held by revelers,

transforming each table into an

indoor elegant, festive -- and safe

-- fireworks display.

One fantasy will be a reality

this New Year's Eve in

Washington. It is being organized

by Palm Beach, Fla., party

planner Bruce Sutka to benefit

the American Red Cross. The

silver invitation gives a clue to the

evening. It reads, "In the tradition

of previous New Year's

celebrations in Palm Beach, the

atmosphere will be one of dazzling

spectacle and excitement."

According to the organizers, the

party, which will cost $150 per

person, will be held at the

Organization of American States

building at 17th Street and

Constitution Avenue. Guests will

enter the jungle atmosphere

atrium to be enveloped in

artificial fog created by fog

machines. Laser lights will

split a path through the fog. With

the background of samba music,

the guests will be ushered through

a fantasy carnival tunnel to a

fountain, which will be

surrounded by a platform with

dancers and neon lights hanging from the ceilings and walls.

Upstairs in the ballroom a surprise guest performer will appear at midnight out of a huge bowl of fruit, ushering in the New Year with a champagne breakfast.

But if you are one for whom outrageously fantastic New Year's Eve parties just won't work, then try the suggestion of Marthena Cowart of Arrive Unlimited party planners. "For the last few years we have celebrated with a champagne and lobster dinner with an outrageous chocolate cake for dessert. With our nearest and dearest friends we just sit around the fire and enjoy being together."